I have never been one to have a “natural” talent at anything. In fifth grade when I chose an instrument to play, I was along with twenty other girls, breathless as we held our silver flutes against our lips and tried to create a semblance of a tone. As we mastered the aperture and learned how to produce a tone, we progressed in learning the fingering for the notes of the melodic and chromatic scales. Finally, we were ready to be tested on our ability and then seated from first chair to last depending on how we mastered the exercise. When I relied on my “natural” talent I sat near the end of the section. If I practiced, devoted myself to the exercise I magically moved toward the front of the section, even winning the coveted first chair for a week or two.
In the fourth grade, my mother tried to teach me to sew. I was impatient with the learning process and expected perfection straight out of the gate. I shed many tears and tore out seam after seam. It was a miserable process, mostly because I refused to give up. The same was true when my grandmother tried to teach me to crochet and then knit. I ended up with a knotted mess, with tension so tight that whatever I was attempting to make was barely recognizable. Over the years, I kept at it. People marvel at the intricate patterns I have mastered, the wide range of crafts I can now complete with relative ease. They would mark it up to talent, but what is really at play is tenacity.
I guess the same would be true with my athletic accomplishments. The only time anyone showed interest in my physical abilities was when I was in junior high and turned out for the track team. I was fast at short distances and was tapped to be part of a four person relay team. I never got to compete. I pulled a groin muscle walking to the track for practice. It took almost a year to heal and by then, I like most teenagers, found myself attracted to other things. In high school I joined the gymnastics team and somehow with my fear of heights found myself competing on the balance beam. That has served me well in other parts of my life. I imagine that I am back on a four inch slab of wood, forcing my focus to be anywhere than down. Concentration and blocking out fear can accomplish amazing things. And should you fall, the ego is bruised long before the flesh.
As a newly minted middle-aged runner, there is no conceivable reason that I should be able to run with the top 30% of women in my age-range. Except I’ve lived a life honed by tenacity and stick-with-it-ness. Quitting has never seemed like a good idea at any stage of my life and if I look beyond the headlines or conventional wisdom more often than not I find a sign that I didn’t even know I was looking for. For example, the other day on a training run I spent a good part of my time thinking about all the things in my life that seemed off track. As I rounded the corner, spray painted on an abandoned log was the words, “No Worries.” It was just the reminder I needed to clear my mind and enjoy the journey.
Similarly, I was downtown looking for parking, when I noticed the “One Way” sign had been altered and now read “One Love.” That little prank put me in a Bob Marley frame of mind and it was hard to hold on to any type of irritation as car horns honked and pedestrians rushed through the crosswalk. I was content to sit and wait to make my right hand turn.
So what is the secret to success? Tenacity. Focus. Patience. Letting Go. Those are the only “natural” talents I’ve ever owned; miraculously honed with a mere five decades of trying.