Nastia Liukin, Dana Torres, and of course, Michael Phelps — just a few of the incredible American Olympians with awe-inspiring stories. But as moving and amazing as their paths to Olympic medals might be, the one that has touched my heart most has to be that of Shawn Johnson.
Though I’m no where near being any sort of Olympian, and anyone who knows me personally knows I am anything but graceful — my sister got my share of those genes — there’s just something about Shawn’s silver “rut” that I could identify with. Throughout grade school and high school, I managed one second place finish after another, from PTA Cultural Arts contests to being chosen as an “alternate” for Governor’s School to my graduation as salutatorian. And even as my “little” sister made her own way through school, I came to feel that really, she was better than I as well, in terms of the “importance” of her degree and the degree of her faith, among other things.
Don’t misunderstand, I was proud of my red ribbons (this was a public school system — there were no silver medals to be won). And I did manage to win a blue ribbon here and there. But to me, where it really counted, it felt that I would never be better than second best. I can’t tell you how hard I cried when I wasn’t chosen for Governor’s School. As sad as it is, it still makes me sick to my stomach. Likewise, in college I felt like I “copped out” by changing my degree from a BFA to a BA, backing out of so many art classes. Though I blamed my decision on a professor, I realize now that the problem was really me — whether it was a fear of failure or a simple lack of ambition.
So, enough self-psychoanalysis and back to Shawn Johnson. It seems I could have and still can learn a lot from her. All I’ve read about her has mentioned just how sunny and positive she has been, even in the wake of falling short of a goal. Where my “not quite first place” finishes have jaded me and eaten away my ambition, Shawn has continued to cheer on teammates while savoring her silver and setting her sights on gold for “next time.” I truly believe that it was that attitude that led her to “finally” earn her elusive gold on the balance beam today.
This morning, my 4-year-old informed me he was going to be a mail carrier when he grows up. He then asked me, “Mommy, what are you going to be when you grow up?”
It’s a valid question. Especially since I still haven’t decided. At this point in my life, I feel like I’m ready to climb a mountain (metaphorically, of course). The problem is that I don’t know which one.
But while I continue my soul searching and prayers to help me find my path, I will keep “Make it Mine” as my morning alarm ringtone, and I’ll take a tip from Shawn Johnson (and Norman Vincent Peale) and practice a bit more positive thinking.