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A Professional Athlete's One Regret

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This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on September 3rd, 2015.

When I reflect on my ten years on the U.S. Ski Team, I don’t regret a single race. I don’t regret a single crash or lackluster result. I don’t regret not soaking up the incredible locales to which I traveled. I don’t even regret my final year, when I pushed my damaged knee to start competing before it had fully recovered from its latest surgery.

When I reflect on these things, I don’t regret them because it is easy for me to recognize that, at the time, I was just doing my best. It is easy for me to simply acknowledge what it means to be a focused and driven professional athlete. I’ll admit that my poor performances, shortfalls, crashes, and DNF’s were painful at the time, but there isn’t one of them that I’d want to go back and change.

All of that said, I cannot claim to have a career of “no regrets.” I cannot claim that there’s nothing I would change. After all, the bulk of my career was laced with the longest and most damaging mistake I think I’ve ever made.

I was recently reminded of that mistake during the briefest and most casual of encounters… I was leading a ZGiRLS huddle at the Lindsey Vonn Foundation Summer Camp for Girls and Lindsey herself walked into the room. I had just kicked off a discussion about positive self-talk by asking the girls, “who here has beaten yourself up, or been really hard on yourself, after a disappointing loss or poor performance?”

As always, every single girl raised her hand. I agreed, “Me too… I used to be SO hard on myself.” And because my former teammate happened to be in the room, I also said, “Lindsey could probably even attest to it. Linds, didn’t I used to get really down on myself?” Without hesitation, Lindsey responded to the girls: “Oh my god, she was SO bad!”

Sure, Lindsey was simply responding to my baited question, but still, her response struck me… It wasn’t just that her agreement was quick, it was that, in her voice, I heard strong memory and a knowing conviction.

While my discussion with the girls carried on without pause, Lindsey’s response continues to stick with me. Of course I remember being unreasonably hard on myself, but it pained me to think, is that what Lindsey remembers about me too? I guess I always assumed that Lindsey was too busy with her interviews and press conferences to notice her teammate’s post-race emotional states. My heart sinks when I think that’s what people remember about me.

I retired from ski racing in 2008. As the founder of ZGiRLS, I often reflect on how my mental wiring has changed since retiring from my sport. In many ways, I feel like I am a completely different person now, than I was then. You could say I’ve learned a bit about self-compassion (thanks yoga!), and while I believe I have a ways to go when it comes to practicing self-compassion, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve come a long way. I’m not nearly as mean to myself as I used to be 

“Perspective” means “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” Looking back on my ski racing days, the fact of the matter was, I simply didn’t have the perspective that I do now. I didn’t have the capacity to grasp that bad races were NOT the end of the world. I didn’t have the capacity to understand that I didn’t HAVE to beat myself up so badly. I didn’t have the capacity to just be kind to myself and LET GO.

I don’t blame myself for lacking perspective–after all, that’s life. That’s being young. That’s figuring things out the “hard way.” But, I DO regret not figuring it out sooner. All of that mental anguish, all of that internal bullying, all of that emotional torture… It was miserable. And so unnecessary.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone. I have yet to meet a girl who says that she’s never hard on herself. Research even shows that girls struggle with failure more than boys. I see it all of the time: the gloom that spreads across a girl’s face when she’s engaged in some kind of silent internal battle.

Regret can be either toxic, or motivating. Mine? Mine is motivating. I can’t go back in time and erase my mental boxing matches, but I CAN try to keep others from engaging in their own.

Be kind. You always have permission, and the choice, to let go. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, there WILL be another day. Stand down. There’s no need to fight.