It may sound obvious, but the challenges that are presented to (or sought out by) us throughout the course of our lives, usually catalyse some degree of change. This change is often (but not always), characterised by personal growth in one way or another.
Think about it. The first time you did an Ironman, got a major job promotion, or had a baby? There’s some serious personal growth at play and we’re not always truly aware of it.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the COVID-19 situation has brought about a lot of change in - I’d go as far as saying - the majority of people. I’m not just referring to change in our daily lives, either, (we all know you’ve been drinking more alcohol and baking more cakes since lockdown); I’m pointing to something on a deeper level.
I think many of us have learned to slow down. We have learned to find sources of entertainment in the minutiae of life, in the absence of external stimulation. We have learned to truly bond with our children. We have learned to indulge in other, different things. We have learned that those human connections we were lacking are desperately valuable to us. We have learned to appreciate nature. We have learned a little more about what we really want from life – what makes us happy. And probably a lot more that I haven’t mentioned – both positive and negative learnings.
More importantly, though, we have learned to look a bit more inwardly. And I’d argue that this stimulates personal growth – something that some people pay thousands of pounds and often a lifetime to recognise. We’ve been forced into an uncontrollable situation and sure, it’s been goddamn tough at times. But genuinely, I think there are going to be a lot of positive outcomes as a result of this opportunity for introspection, if we allow time to acknowledge it.
From a personal point of view, the situation definitely catalysed introspection for me. It made me question a lot of things, challenge some very long-standing views that I had cemented into my belief system, and look more inwardly for a source of happiness that wasn’t my usual ‘go-to’ probing for external stimuli.
In short, was it really something “out there” that would define true happiness for me? Or was it really “in here”? I don’t think, amidst the ‘busy-ness’ of our lives, we really allow much, if any, time or capacity to think about these things; or certainly at any level of depth. The famous ‘lockdown’, which will spatter across history books for decades to come, has helped to cultivate this.
Just to make this clear – in the interests of political correctness and moral equilibrium – I am in no way dismissing the harrowing consequences of COVID-19 and the many, many people who lost their lives - or members of their family, or even those who have lost their jobs. I am merely highlighting that for many, there are some shards of awareness which might be worthwhile grasping, because this ‘opportunity’ for introspection is so utterly rare.
What has this got to do with triathlon? Everything. And nothing. I took a massive change of direction in my life during this period, where, in personal relationship terms, I was heading towards what I thought was the right thing. Until I realised that it wasn’t. At all. I’m not sure this realisation would have even occurred had the world not come to a standstill and I, along with everyone else in the world, was suddenly confronted with my own reality.
It made me think a lot (about a great deal of things), but about why I got into triathlon in the first place. Why I climb mountains. Why I travel all over the world, living an experience-rich and dynamic life as possible. And it all comes down to the same thing – the very same thing that, ironically, Coronavirus brought upon so many of us in a weird and twisted way. Personal growth.
Pushing your mind, your body; breaching all those physical and mental limits you set yourself; trying to better each performance - not for anyone else but for your own sense of fulfilment; investing energy, emotion, passion; making sacrifices; feeling the sense of achievement not just inside yourself but through those people who have supported you along the way – if triathlon isn’t a catalyst for personal growth, I don’t know what is.
Sure, there are other things out there which serve the same or a similar purpose. But think about it – many of us are still doing what we love despite the fact that there may be no races. Why? Because we get all of the above from the day-in, day-out grind of training. That challenge, each and every day in itself, is what keeps us feeling alive.
This crazy period of time has brought with it so much negativity. But if you start to feel around at who you’ve become or might become out the other side, I think you’ll be looking inwardly with soft almost-smugness at the personal growth you’ll have cultivated. And that really is something. Because when normal life resumes, whether it’s your professional career, personal relationships, or your next triathlon race, you’re going to carry all those skills you’ve developed through – resilience, self-awareness, tolerance, or the strength of mind to know what you really want. Embrace it.