I got back out on the trails for a run the other day after a long winter hiatus. After my oh-so-slow performance, I’ve decided I have to stop saying “I’m going for a run” and change it to “I’m going for a jog.” My first jog this year happened with my 14-year-old daughter. She recently joined the track team and was eager to try the trails with her mom. Despite my completely honest depiction of my running capabilities, she thought we would be equal running partners.
She left me in the dust.
My gut reaction to my daughter’s running invitation, was “I’d rather not”. Part of me wanted the time and experience with her, but I’ve never liked running with others. I can’t talk while I’m jog/running and I feel a lot of pressure to keep up with them even if my lungs burst.
Why alone is easier
I realized— while jogging by myself days later — I really don’t want anyone to see me struggle. When I run er.. jog alone, I always hope to have the trails to myself, especially when I’m running up the hills. It’s OK if I huff and puff and practically walk once I reach the top of the hill, if no one but me witnesses it. I actually enjoy pushing myself, but if I encounter someone else on the path, I straighten up, add extra spring to my step and go faster for the few seconds I am in their view.
Sure, some of this is pure pride. Most of us, if given the choice, will choose to look good over pathetic, but this false bravado is hard to sustain physically, mentally and spiritually.
The core of social anxiety
This fear of not being seen in our best light is at the core of social anxiety. Whether we were teased or judged harshly for mistakes in the past or we fear burdening someone with our ineptness, doing something that is difficult for us seems so much easier to do without an audience.
For some of us, starting conversations or answering questions off-the-cuff are areas where we struggle. For others, performing certain acts like eating or walking across a room, provide the arena for potential mishaps. These struggles and their subsequent shame or embarrassment if witnessed by others, causes us to avoid such situations.
Struggle to ask for help
One of my children, a few years ago, found themselves failing a math class. They never said anything to their dad or me. We only found out because the teacher sent a progress report and emailed us a letter of concern. The teacher said our child never asked for help in school. They slowly let their grade slip into the danger zone, as they panicked in private. They were too embarrassed or ashamed to admit they needed help.
Once my ex-husband and I were in on the situation, we did our best to support our child and reverse the slide. We did not fix everything for them but we helped them figure out how they could take back control and get on a positive trajectory. Part of that was limiting their phone and fun time. Part of it was encouraging them to meet with the teacher every day for help. It helped us to stay in contact with the teacher too.
Our child saw the benefits of having a team behind them. Isolating and licking wounds alone, only exacerbated the problem. Some things require the help and support of others. Their grade eventually came up and we all learned the importance of not struggling in isolation.
I actually wanted to help and it felt good to be able to offer assistance. I have often thought the lines we hear about people wanting to help us, are poppycock, but the truth is, quite often, they do.
Disconnecting is not the answer
The times when I have been brave enough to let others see me at my worst: 1. Complaining, crying and making mistakes while going through my divorce. 2. Peeing my pants during excruciating workouts with my old training group 3. Letting my emotions and insecurity show with my partner. 4. Failing as a parent to meet the needs of my kids in front of other parents. 5. Feeling overwhelmed, calling my best friend and just crying. The list goes on and on… During those times, having others around offering compassion, understanding, inspiration and laughter, saved me.
Struggling with others connects us and makes us better
My daughter was nervous about trying track. She had all kinds of worries about being last or falling down. She used to run occasionally on the treadmill with headphones. Now, during track practice she runs every day with others and no headphones. She ran her third 400 meter race last night. The first two races she got fourth place out of six/seven. Last night she got second out of nine. She said running with other people pushes her to be her best.
Solitude and surviving
As a highly sensitive person and introvert, I understand the desire for solitude. The recovery of energy and the ability to do deep work are just two blessings that grow out of the fertile soil of solitude.
I even understand the strong desire to work alone on perfecting something you are ashamed of or have not mastered yet. I still prefer jogging on the trails alone. But if your fear of floundering or struggling in front of others is holding you back or making things worse, please consider allowing the comfort, feedback, motivation and help of others. If we struggle and survive, we become stronger.
Do you let others see you challenged? What if others saw you in a weak state? Do you struggle in private with anything?