My last post dealt with great competitors. While doing some reading for it I came across an article that shed some light on the minds of great competitors, including a quote that I haven’t been able to shake since I’ve read it. The writer had spoken to a young Maria Sharapova (only 9 years old at the time) and asked if she wanted to be the next Graf. Maria, as young as she was, wisely responded with: “No, I want to be the first Maria Sharapova.” It’s an astonishingly brave thing to say. And maybe, at first, it sounds a little ego-centric. We’ve been taught not to brag, not to think too big– just big enough. Surely she idolized those players—she likely had been told she’d be lucky to be like them at all. But there that 9 year old stood, brazen, and courageous enough to say that she wanted to be her own champion. This is something I must remember.
How many times have you heard fellow competitors comparing themselves and their dogs to other handlers and teams? At local trials, or in training, or in private—I think at some point we’ve all done it, and likely more than once. Comparing myself became a sort of habitual line of thinking for me. I compared my grades, my weight, my looks, my success in agility, my job, my car—goodness… the list could go on forever, it seems. But it became a spiraling thought process. I’d compare my dogs’ speed, or Q rate to a friend or fellow competitor and then use them as a benchmark for my own success. How could I have asked Nike or Bolt to be any other dog? I became so focused on what he lacked in comparison that I lost sight of the success my own dog had. How unfair.
The funny thing is, up until recently I didn’t make that some connection to what I was doing to myself. I cannot be the next J.K Rowling, or Sylvia Trkman or (fill in any number of writers, or handlers, or trainers here)—just like Bolt can’t be the next Le or Hoss or Rush. I can only be the first Meghan McCarthy. I can only be the absolute best version of my own self that’s possible. Bolt can only be the first Bolt. It is my obligation to make sure he is given the best chance to be the best version of his own self, too. When we start to hold our dogs in comparison to others we diminish the greatness they already have. We rob them of their own uniqueness and the future they are destined to create– whatever that future may look like. Do not do your dog this disservice. Do not do yourself that disservice, either.
In a world where we’re all constantly connected nearly every hour of the day, comparisons are inevitable. Believe me, by no means am I suggesting we stop using social media. I’m a social media addict—I love it, I think it’s done incredible good not just in the agility and dog community, but far beyond. But an unintended consequence of this constant contact is a continuous bombarding of success sharing. We use social media as a platform to share accomplishments, to share love, to share happiness—I think it’s absolutely wonderful. But then again, when you’re not feeling successful, or happy, being continuously showered in the shiny bits of others’ lives wears thin pretty quickly. So here’s some of what I’m trying to do:
Distance yourself when needed. When you find your mind wading in comparisons; when you don’t feel good enough, or as good as, or as fast as, or as talented as, check out for a bit. Turn off the phone, or computer (or at least put it down) and spend some time away from it. For me that usually entails a car ride and a hike. Photography and writing take that place too. Find something that’s distracting in a positive way. Something that may bring you closer to that future you’re envisioning for yourself and your dog.
Make a list of your success. Sincerely sit down and make a list of the things you’ve done that you’re proud of, or even things you may have dismissed as innocuous. I have not won a gold medal, or won a national event (yet), but despite that I still feel as though we’ve achieved success. It is not the end-goal, we’re not even close yet. But I know I’ve done things that make my journey unique, and that is incredibly important. List your happiness, too. It doesn’t have to become public knowledge, but you must acknowledge it.
Reject negativity/ spread positivity. A daily practice that must constantly be reinforced. I’m still working on this one and probably will for a very, very long time.
Don’t wait to be the next anyone.
It’s much better being the first you.