Paul Bryant, a famous Alabama football coach, once said “If you believe in yourself, have dedication and pride and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”. While the quote is dominant, one thing must be clarified.
The word “pride” is often misused in the world of sports. It doesn’t necessarily carry the positive connotations of belief, dedication, and never quitting. Pride can be synonymous with self-righteousness and ego, which is the opposite of humility. According to Dictionary.com, pride is a high or inordinate opinion of one’s dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
Of course, we know that when somebody says “I take pride in my work,” they mean to portray the effort they put into the task. This is a wonderful thing. However, when speaking regarding yourself, you cannot have humility and pride, but you absolutely can have humility and solid effort. My point is that true pride is not a quality that should be praised like it is in athletics.
Pride vs. Confidence
Here’s why. One famous proverb says that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). When you start thinking highly of yourself because of your accomplishments, you leave yourself in a vulnerable position. Your pride may be mistaken for your confidence. If these accomplishments are taken away or cease to go on, you begin to feel crushed.
A great way to build confidence is to work hard in the process. A great way to build pride is to find your worth in your accolades. You may be dealing with a pride issue if your feelings about yourself are dependent on how well you performed.
After an accumulation of successes, your pride may be at a high point. You may feel like life is good because you’ve earned merit. It may even propel you to continue down a track of high-achievement for some time. Unfortunately, since pride is based on what you’ve earned, you must keep earning. That’s pressure.
I was coming off of my junior year NCAA meet, and my pride was growing. Most people would have described me as humble because I wasn’t one to brag about my accomplishment, but pride is internal.
As always, the USA championship meet was two weeks after NCAA’s. This time I only entered the heptathlon with hopes of making the World Team. I was still a little fatigued from the prior meet, so most of my power events were a little bit low. When it came to the final event, the 800m, I was able to jump up in the standings to finish second.
It was my highest finish ever. Normally, I would have been able to go to the World Championships with this performance, but unfortunately, the winner didn’t have the A-standard. Team USA would not take two B-standard performances, so I was left home. Crushing.
My self-worth had grown through-out that season. I was ranked as the number two heptathlete in the USA and projected to make the next year’s Olympic team. Missing the most recent USA team left me extra motivated for redemption.
The Olympic year
Following a few weeks off, I came into the 2012 season ready to reach my dreams. It was my senior year, and I had made a name for myself. My pride was quiet, but it was high! I was going to make that Olympic team and reach the pinnacle of my sport. The pressure was high too.
Here I was, proud and extremely anxious about the year ahead. I was still caught in the middle of this eating disorder, and it was getting harder to manage. In fact, I knew that I struggled the most during high-stress times.
Track was who I was and the Olympics was everything I wanted, so I couldn’t really minimize the self-pressure. As I described in the last blog, the eating disorder felt like an endless cycle of guilt. Starve – eat too much – overwork and starve – eat too much… on and on. It felt more out-of-control than it had ever been before.
Even in the midst of this, I had my best training block ever during the fall season. The prior year’s work combined with the off-season rest and some weight gain had me running the fastest I’d ever gone. I could taste my dreams! Then it abruptly changed.
Here We Go Again
We had just transitioned to the indoor facility and I was starting to feel the same low-iron fatigue AGAIN. I had assumed I could stop taking my iron supplements when the prior season ended. Since I was doing so well, I figured I didn’t need them. I hated the idea of supplements anyway. That was a rather upsetting wake-up call to a stupid mistake.
I wasn’t as fortunate this time around. The last episode had been corrected quickly, but this time I felt like I couldn’t get back to normal.
‘Was I making unfair comparisons to the previous year?
Did I work hard enough?
Was I just not as good?’
Since my pride was high, I felt like I needed to be able to defend those successes with an even more impressive year. It certainly wasn’t going the way I expected and I felt like I was scrambling to catch up.
That was a recipe for injury. I was trying to beat every practice time calculated by my coach and I was going way outside the intended intensity ranges to do so. I started feeling a strange, intense throb in my upper thigh whenever I landed on that foot.
Immediately we thought stress fracture, but the MRI couldn’t find one. I carried on with training, lying about pain. The limp in my stride said enough and I was summoned to the bike and pool for a short while.
Over the years I had convinced myself that running was what made me good. The more I ran, the better I performed. I had never utilized cross-training beforehand and so I didn’t trust that it would keep me in shape. Since I was wrapped up in my pride, this situation created even more stress. Eating and running were now both out of my control. My hope was wavering.
When spring season got underway, I was feeling a bit relieved. I always excelled more once everything moved outside. The goal was to race my way back into shape. I hoped each race would be the turning point, but I just didn’t feel like myself.
Pride goes before destruction. If I was truly humble, I could have taken each race with more perspective. Instead, each race felt like a huge underachievement that took away from my hope and self-worth. My dreams were slipping away.
The Olympic trials rolled around and I was trying to be positive. When you’ve been beating yourself up, it’s hard to honestly flip the switch. I was struggling on many levels.
It did end up being my best meet of the year, but it was no dream come true. I had never fully regained the speed, power, or endurance. The best I could manage was 7th place. It felt like my biggest failure ever because I fell from a high place. I was just grateful to see the end of the season. I needed a restart.
Pride can be loud or quiet. No other human can see the pride in your heart except you. Finding your worth in your accomplishments is dangerous. Underachievement can become a devastating blow. We may become blinded to the reality of a situation. Instead of seeking help, we are tempted to fight our way back to the top. We don’t want people to see us in our weakness.
Here’s the better option. Fight for humility. Keep your accomplishments in perspective. They don’t make you a better person. Similarly, keep your failures in perspective. They don’t make you a lesser person. When pressure tempts a humble heart, it stays invested in the process and keeps the faith.