Ambition and Balance – The Tightrope Type A Athletes Walk

by | May 26, 2023 | Mindset

If you work a normal non-pro-athlete job, training and racing is supposed to be a fun outlet… Right? Right?! Coming off of a weekend where I was relatively lazy with the exception of my training, this is something I’m thinking about a lot as I try to settle into the week ahead. I find that as a very Type A person, I struggle with finding the balance of balance. That is to say, I find it really hard to completely relax, in part because my to-do list is always swirling in my head, and in part because there’s part of me that’s afraid if I slow down, I won’t get started again.

But this weekend, I realized that not only were a couple of low-key days at home exactly what I needed, they were what my athletic brain needed too. Lately, I feel like I’ve been cramming. Cramming in more work assignments, my own projects—including starting a new company, and training for a race that is a major unknown/question mark for me. It’s enough to make me just a teensy bit stressed out, always feeling like I’m on a hamster wheel. And like I wrote about last month, it’s hard to feel like an athlete when you have so many other identities that are currently competing for your time and attention. How many major projects (and yes, a race is most certainly a project!) can we be expected to focus on at once?

I recently was going back through our archives and found an old podcast titled Ambition and Balance with Becky Kane of ToDoist, the software I use to schedule my entire life. For some reason, the title really struck a chord with me, in a way I hadn’t thought about before. What if, instead of seeing my upcoming race as something to be terrified about/stressed over, I looked at it through the lens of Ambition AND Balance. Ambition meaning that I’m going to go into it as prepared as possible, with the intention of giving it my absolute best, my 110%. But with that, a sense of balance, where even if the wheels come off, I recognize that there still is so much joy in getting to race day and being out there?

Seems a teensy bit obvious, I know. But for someone who’s always had a bit of race day dread, and who is far too competitive for her own good (see: the reason I don’t do local races, because I like my friends), this is a major revelation. Maybe it is possible to exist in a place where you can expect the best from yourself, while still being aware that the real reason I’m racing is because it’s damn fun and satisfying? I’ve always secretly worried that the ‘racing is fun’ mentality would make me less competitive, have less of that ‘eye of the tiger’ mentality on the start line. But maybe there’s room for both.

I think as serious recreational athletes—meaning anyone who isn’t earning a living from racing, but who is taking it seriously—we often feel like we need to have an all-or-nothing mentality. It has to be hard, it has to be tough, we have to be serious. Our stakes, in reality, are low. In our minds, though, I think many of us put so much of our self-worth into our identity as athletes, and that can often be to our detriment.

I think finding this new relationship with racing us what will keep me in sport for longer. The older I get, the more I realize that I’m going to hit a point where I can’t compete with some of the younger people in the field with me. I won’t be able to compete with my old self. (That said, I hope I have a few more years before this happens, and I know there are many, many things I can improve on from who I was as a 25-year-old athlete.) But it’s something Peter and I both have started to think about: How can we age gracefully in our sports, also focusing on enjoyment and longevity, while not giving up the passion for racing as hard as possible? I think the answer is figuring out where ambition can meet balance.

So, my challenge to you: If any of this resonates with you, maybe it’s time to reflect a bit on your relationship with your ambition as an athlete. How can you temper it to find the inflection point between giving your all in a race, while still enjoying the process?


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