By Heidie Raine
I quit cheerleading after my sophomore year of high school in search of something new—reduced glitter, less time, better people. I found my answer in the form of the cross country team, a lovely athletic group that shared mutual respect, carb-loaded dinners and one goal: run fast. Though unfamiliar, cross country fit my criteria for a new activity:
1. No glitter
2. 45-minute practices
3. An altogether kinder atmosphere than competitive cheer crowd had provided
Convinced, I attended the informational meeting and added my name to the roster, embarking on my two-year journey of 5k’s, side cramps and sweat stains.
I loved cross country; I was also horrible at it and hated running. (My first season goal: don’t be last. My second season goal: don’t walk AND don’t be last.)
When I reflect upon my two cross country years, as joyful and unsuccessful as they were, I see the roots of my newfound and favorite apologetic—embrace one thing you’re horrible at. I believe it to be an enriching ethic that serves me continually. So hear, all ye successful people, the call: pursue something you’re horrible at.
Reason #1: We are prideful people who desperately need humility.
I enjoy being good at things. I like winning. I strive for first place, and I pout (at least briefly, internally) when I fail. Being a slow, whiny runner, I had much to reconcile between my desire for success and my pitiful participation in cross country. What I learned through many races of watching opponents pass me, talking walk breaks and heaving and huffing and hacking up sunburnt hills is that my enjoyment could not come from the pride of success. There was no glory waiting for me when I reached the finish line that 75 other girls had already crossed, their footprints fading the once vibrantly spray-painted line. At Monday practices when we reviewed race times, my name always fell suspiciously low on the fastest-to-slowest organized chart. For the first time in my high school career, I did not compete in varsity. I needed that reminder—that humbling force—to reinforce my status: a meager, ant-like human, sustained by God and yet made of dirt (and, each race, tripping over miles of dirt).
Reason #2: When success is unreachable, other means of growth appear.
I decided two weeks into team practices that my goal could not be to win because I didn’t care enough. I was unwilling to surrender juice and bread for the sake of faster splits. Instead, I had the time (those runs are very long) to consider the benefits of a hobby outside of academia, the role of lifting team morale while lowering team success, the possibility of cheering on fellow runners loudly as they looped, passed or trotted alongside me. I realized that many more tasks will confront me in life that I could characterize as laborious, tiring, unfruitful and difficult, and I would still need to complete them. Whatever metaphorical “miles” stood before me in the future—taxes, relationships, interviews—I already had the experience of enduring physical miles to bolster my spirits.
Reason #3: Relief from pressure breeds lightheartedness.
A story best explains this point: once a season, my cross country team traveled to a large meet in central Illinois. There, the hosting region set up an event tent where vendors sold shoes, warm-ups, water bottles—a whole tizzy of running-related gear. In addition to the shining new supplies, there were $5 barrels filled with old schools uniforms, shirts from past meets and other misfit items. My school took a personal liking to old uniforms that a team from Butte, Illinois, their unfortunate mascot being the pirates. My teammates found their own neon orange jerseys—once belonging to the affectionately mispronounced “Butt Pirates”—and we wore them in unity every Monday practice. I cared so little about running success that my Butt Pirate era continues to reign as my favorite cross country memory.
Reason #4: Not everything in life needs 100% of our effort.
My fiction professor once shared these wise words with me at the end of a particularly trying semester: “Don’t finish strong; just finish.” That phase continues to assuage me from the responsibility to dump my whole self into every task I face, to feel shame over B+ work if I could have squeezed out an A-. My cross country races showcased some of my poorest work—bad running form; a stern, angry face; horrible breathing technique; mumbled swears; side cramps. And yet, stumbling forward like a wounded elephant, I would finish each race. Such is life. We will gracelessly complete much in life, and that completion matters far more than our artfulness in the process.
And so, I challenge you—just once, find something you’re horrible at. Do it. Glean and learn from it. Then cling to the lessons ever so dearly because they will propel you through whatever bitter cup life might next hold.
Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working for Cedarville public relations and the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters and caring for her small forest of plants.