Holding Yourself Back Isn't Worth It

Susan Donnelly running the tough Tahoe 100-mile ultramarathon

For years, a previous partner and I went to races together.

He was fast but ran slow. He liked taking his time and socializing in the back of the pack. He was good trail company.

Sometimes I ran with him, sometimes I didn’t.

He didn’t ask me to run with him but I remember feeling by default that I should, and feeling guilty when I didn’t.

There were days when I wanted to let loose for the pure joy of it and see what I could do for the pure exhilaration of it. Sometimes I did.

But most of these times I reined myself in and ran with him while I watched others do what I wanted to do. I drove home on those days, frustrated.

So why do it?

To keep him happy and avoid being seen as ambitious. Because there's some fake, commonly-accepted rule that women can be nice or ambitious, but never both.

Before every race, I’d decide whether I wanted to do my own thing, and whether I should. How would it look? Would this be one time too many?

Ridiculous, but I’m betting if you’re a woman reading this, you can relate.

At one 100, his bag didn’t arrive with our flight. We spent the day before the race calling the airline and shopping for replacement race gear.

He decided to drop down to the shorter 50k distance that he preferred anyway.

I chose to stay in the 100-mile I'd been looking forward to for months. He'd be starting later and finishing almost a day before me.

Free for once to do own my thing with a guilt-free conscience, I ran it hard. It felt great.

I upped the pace in the last miles and when I heard the announcer and saw the finish tent, I gave it my all. I rounded the final corner with 100 miles of hard work behind me and one short tenth of a mile to go, heart pounding and lungs near their limit.

Suddenly, he stepped off a side trail ahead and asked me to stop and walk in with him.

“No way,” I laughed out as I ran by, “Meet me at the finish line!”

To my shock, I won the RRCA female master’s trail championship. I’d never won anything remotely that big. National!

He spent the awards ceremony talking to other people, gave me a congratulations, and didn’t mention the award again. 

Later that evening at the hotel, with little sleep in over 40 hours, I lay on the bed quietly marveling at the day and listening to him make the same calls about his bag with the same non-answers.

He hung up and with no warning, flew into a rage about me caring more about the race than his bag.

It startled me but it also flipped a switch.

I’d run hard, won something amazing, and was damn proud of it. No way was I going to apologize to anyone for any of it.

If I couldn’t enjoy the one time I won something big, then all that holding back wasn’t worth it.

As Marianne Williamson reminds us so beautifully, “We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”

So as you face a new year, I hope you know. 

You’re not here to live small.

And you never, ever, ever have to apologize for your drive, your talent, your power, or your brilliance. 

Let them all shine full strength.

The world needs it.

Be fully You,

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PS - What questions would you like me to answer next year? Send 'em to me at  susan@susanidonnelly.com and I'll answer them!