In our first Weekend Agenda of 2021, professional runner Brittany Brown shares lessons learned through a difficult year and the adaptations she has made to move forward.
Brittany, 2019 world silver medalist, started the year off with a vision and goals for how the year should go. Very quickly, all those plans came crashing down. At first, she was lost. Her world and sense of being had escaped her. Slowly she started to rebuild. Through allowing herself grace, adapting to new challenges, and appreciating the little things, Brittany fostered a new sense of normal.
As we all look ahead to this year, we encourage you to allow yourself grace and to appreciate the little wins. Remember, you can, and you will.
Follow along with Brittany's journey on her Instagram.
At 11:30 pm December 31st 2019, I am sitting on the floor of my living room with a few close friends writing a symphony of goals that will be achieved in 2020.
“Make the Olympic Team”
“Do the little things every day that will lead to success”
“Start a Track Camp”
You know that feeling? When you are writing down future plans, it’s as if something comes over you and you feel limitless you are certain that nothing will stop you.
I laugh looking at this list now, little did I know my whole world was about to be flipped upside down.
March of 2020 hits here in the states and every limitation is put on me. COVID-19, Olympics postponed, a new age of The Civil Rights Movement and a multitude of more issues being plastered all over the news and social media on a regular basis. It was draining.
Something needed to change. I needed to adjust.
It reminded me of a time when I was in class and the teacher was teaching on adaptations. She explained that over time certain animals adapt new characteristics to help them navigate their new environment. I thought of myself as an animal, in a new terrain, with new circumstances needing to adapt.
My adaptations looked like registering a non-profit, removing the news from my life, training on grass fields, and (a not so positive one): “stress eating.” I stated the last one because it’s the truth and as much as I was adding on positives, let’s be real, the pandemic has brought about some unhealthy adaptations in all of us. All who were hoarding toilet paper –– you’re in the same boat as the stress eaters, so don’t judge us. Healthy or unhealthy, this newness didn't bring about the fulfillment that I so desperately needed.
I began to dive into this unfulfillment through a conversation with my therapist. I explained to her that as a professional athlete, I have grown accustomed to instant gratification when competing. After a race, it’s very clear what place you have come in, the prize money you will or will not receive. The atmosphere of a packed stadium with hundreds of fans cheering...it's a feeling you can’t beat. It’s the acceptance, the recognition, first or last place someone will see you and we feed off of that.
I had my schedule and knew what to expect, but then COVID hit and it shook my routine to its core while also taking away one of my fuels. It’s not the only thing that pushes me, but those moments when you’re out on a track and people you have never met are cheering your name, it's indescribable and you can’t help but crave it. However, too much of anything can turn rotten and if COVID has taught us anything, it has brought about the importance of reevaluating what pushes us to keep going. Does this have meaning? Will it bring substance/purpose? For me and many other people I have spoken, to we realized a lot is heavily weighted on others' acknowledgment. But what happens when it’s gone? What happens if I don’t have races to prove my worth? Or my new endeavors are harder to complete than anticipated?
My mind goes back to those animals my teacher spoke about. When animals evolve, is it automatic for them? Did they have doubts? Or was it just natural for them?
Maybe that is what makes us different from the animals. Our inner evolution process is a constant, never-ending transformation. We are forever evolving and those doubts and uncertainties come about when we try to resist or fill it with food or excess amounts of toilet paper.
So this unfulfillment I stated earlier came from me trying to resist my inner evolution process, and as much as I was adding on new things, I needed to change my mindset on how I approached my new environment.
The mindset shift looked like learning the importance of self-validation. A race or no race, my worth doesn’t rely on the approval or disapproval of something saying "good job" –– or nothing at all. To know myself without titles or accolades or someone else’s recognition allows me to be free, and that self-validated Brittany allows for true success on and off the track.
I am also learning to give myself grace. I struggle with this one for a few reasons. As a professional track athlete I am always training for the perfect race. As a black woman, I’m always told I have to be ten times better; there is no margin of error for me. The teetering line of making sure I’m docile enough to not be “the aggressive black woman” but also making sure I am bold enough to stand up for myself is a tightrope I don’t even wish upon my enemies. So these social constructs of perfectionism of how I operate in my athleticism, my blackness and my womanhood don’t allow room for error and I take these ways of thinking into every new endeavor. These constructs have brought about positives such as resiliency, but at times it can be consuming.
This is when I discovered the word grace: “unmerited divine assistance, approval, temporary exemption.” What I realized first from this definition is that I am human before anything else. This is the first time I have lived through a pandemic, the first time I trained in a pandemic, and there are a lot of firsts transpiring right now. So, there is a point when you realize this unfulfillment or not knowing is natural; it is a part of it.
To all my humans out there, there is a fine line of not staying stuck because we have no choice but to evolve –– but also allow room for grace. Every new adaptation and new environment will require new skills, and this is the prime time to lean into it.
Follow along with Brittany's journey in 2021 on her Instagram.
Power your pursuits going into 2021. But first, hydrate.