When I was a young child, I formed the identity that I was an uncoordinated klutz. Neither of my parents were athletic, and organized sports weren’t overly encouraged in our household. My mom would say things like “I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life”. My dad didn’t make his high school basketball team despite being 6’5″.
I unconsciously chose the identity that I would never be good at sports or any athletic pursuit. Of course I was little, and I didn’t know any better.
In high school, I somehow managed to muster up enough courage to join the JV lacrosse team, but I was always benched by my coach, and when I did get out onto the field, I was scared out of my mind.
I also ran cross country, but I was always the slowest team member. My running coaches were very patient encouraging – they pushed me to get better and try harder. I improved, but I still viewed myself as slow. I had the mindset that I would never win any races… and so I didn’t.
Back in the early 2000s I worked at REI, and I somehow convinced myself to try this crazy sport called mountain biking. I got a sweet discount on a Cannondale hardtail, and I started exploring the trails around the local reservoir. They were muddy and poorly maintained, which meant lots of downed logs. But the first time I managed to hop over one on my bike without falling off, I was hooked. I was like…holy crap, I can do this!
When I first moved to Colorado, the idea of biking up and down actual mountains (let alone the giant Rocky Mountains) was pretty intimidating. But I started going out on rides with new friends, and slowly gained the confidence to even go out on my own.
My first summer, I briefly dated a pro mountain biker. While I didn’t exactly keep up with him, we did ride together. He’d wait for me at intersections, and I’d feel pretty good that I was tough enough to even try.
Since then, I’ve spent countless hours in the saddle. I’ve gained perhaps millions of feet in elevation, grunting my way up ass-kicking hills. I’ve sweated cumulative actual buckets. I’ve crashed hundreds of times. I’ve scraped and bled from pretty much every part of my body, and even broken a bone.
Mountain biking has become one of my greatest passions. Despite how hard it can be some days, despite the injuries and the dirt and blood, I absolutely love this sport.
A few years ago, it dawned on me: I am an athlete. I am not an uncoordinated klutz. I am someone who can conquer mountains on a bike. I may not be the fastest hill climber, or the bombing-est downhiller, and I have no desire to ever be a racer. But I am an athlete.
It is a powerful thing to realize that you have been defining yourself a certain way your whole life, and that you have the choice to actually be someone different.
It took me a long time to redefine who I was. I used the external experience of biking to prove to myself who I could be. But you know what I actually believe? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can decide in an instant you are going to be someone different. You have everything within you, right now, to redefine your identity.
I believe that with deep awareness, you can change your story overnight.
Have you ever changed part of (or all of) your identity? How much did your mindset play a role in that change? I’d love to hear your story!