shrug motivation 101: persist, overcome, burn it down

my “new year’s resolution” a year ago, if you want to call it that, was #persist. i had just endured a rejection of my athletic ability and i was certain that the best way to beat being told i wasn’t good enough was to get better.

one of the the important tenets of #persist is being concerned with process, not goals. that seems backwards, i know. if you’re like me and get discouraged or defeatist, it makes sense. when you’re ready to give up, remember that a very smart person (you at your best) composed your training plan and you should trust that they knew what they were talking about. work hard, and good things will come. set yourself up for success and let go of the big picture, because too much focus on the big picture can lead to self sabotage.

#persist is a way to cope with the inherent uncertainty of having to place your outcome in the hands of others. i wanted to make a team, but i had no control over whether i was “good enough” for them. #persist acknowledges you need to be lucky, so work harder and your luck gets better. improving your luck is still an intangible thing, however, and even when the odds are in your favor, you can still lose.

i lost big. i persisted, but a glass ceiling reinforced by systemic transmisogyny does not shatter from merit alone.

that adversity led to an amendment to #persist – #overcome, for when you played a full house and lost to a four of a kind. there are things that are out of your control. #overcome turns that adversity into fuel. it’s taking down the names of everyone who doubted you.

#overcome says you can’t punch your way through a mountain – you need the tools to scale it. no mistakes, only missteps. if the system is failing you, take on the system. work within it, or work against it, but don’t ignore it.

bureaucracies are resilient, however. they’re built to stay stable when confronted with challenges from motivated minor actors. it was not long before i truly began to grasp the entrenchment of the bureaucracy i confronted, and that #overcome wasn’t a viable solution to the coded transmisogyny that kept me from succeeding. perhaps i knew in my heart all along that the writing was on the wall, because i don’t think #overcome resonated with me as deeply as #persist had.

whatever the case, i adopted the final step in my upward spiral of success.


2015 was a hard year. my personal achievement was exceptional, but the application of that achievement was stymied by bigotry. in june, something happened that revealed the institutional rot i faced. it also revealed the degree to which the actors within that institution turned a blind eye to that institutional bigotry. it wasn’t some big transgression or act of hate. there are relatively few villains in this story, if only because our societal bigotry rarely shows up like that. it shows up as disenfranchisement and gossip. if the measure of goodness is what you do when no one’s watching, there was a deficit of goodness.

flagrant transmisogyny can be easily dispatched: asserting my hormones make me more reckless, asserting that i’m less of a woman from my height and build, the mythological “weekend trans” bogeyman that trans-exclusionary individuals use to protect the many from the few. cis privilege showed up in ways that were harder to verbalize. a different standard that went unacknowledged by people convinced of their own goodness. passive-aggressive othering. a dismissal of my own concerns, because the system can’t possibly be rigged against me. a hopeless situation engineered so that the buck without accountability, where the only option to prove to myself that the system was failing me, not the converse, was by completely withdrawing from the system. every skater with a chip on her shoulder is gonna get self-righteous if she feels like she’s been screwed out of a roster spot, so why should i be any different? but i believed so firmly in the systemic corruptness of the process that i burnt it all down. straight up: i transferred to a better league.

as completely contrary as it seems to the spirit of #persist, the most important thing i did this year was quit. that’s not giving up. “giving up” is succumbing to internal pressures, abandoning myself. “quitting” is succumbing to external pressures. the abrasiveness of my environment was an external pressure. i quit, and i still persist. i’ve learned that what you do is as important as where you do it.

i bought my first workout groupon last year, during #persist, when i was externally motivated. my routine fell apart when things got hopeless, when i found out how few people put faith in me. to some extent i have always skated for others, but the alienation of the last year forced me to start skating for me. so i bought a new groupon this week for my own goals, for my own success. there’s no slight i’m looking to avenge. cosmic justice won’t be served. this is just me, at my best, in an environment that will permit me to thrive. for the first time in a long time, it’s actually up to me. hopefully, that will be enough.

the reset button

one of the hurdles to leap while persisting is the inevitability that i will fuck up.

the last couple of weeks i’ve been pretty chronically unfortunate. car troubles. work troubles. life troubles. today, at tryouts, i didn’t do great. a few things went wrong, and i let that take me over. i got depressed, and performed as such.

when i fail in rapid succession – mistakes, bad luck, whatever – #persist does not seem like a great idea. giving up seems like a good idea. why keep on working hard if bad things keep happening? #persist gets me over my daily hurdles, but it’s vulnerable to a loss of faith in The Plan.

there’s a few things, though, that help me keep at it, keep strong. i have meditated on my fuck up, and i am stronger for tomorrow.

validation. pats on the head. the honest support of others. a reality check on my plan.
direction. feedback. course adjustment. ways to avoid kicking at the darkness.
meditation. peaceful reflection. honest self-assessment. pushing the reset button.

my tryout was wretched. i spent all day beating myself up about it. first i got some validation – there were things i did well. i got some direction – ways to do better next time. i still felt lousy. then i went skating and just reflected on my morning. i realized that i am not accustomed to wanting something so badly and caving under pressure. i am usually clear headed and calm, and today i was anxious and stressed.

today was the last day of my bad luck. i am calm and mindful. when i am strong, i will persist. when i am weak, i will seek validation, request direction, and meditate on my failures. then i will push the reset button and start tomorrow fresh with a chance to redeem myself.


something that thomas jefferson said struck a chord with me today.

I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

at some level i do not believe in myself. when faced with a potential athletic challenge, my gut instinct is to cower and defer. it has always been like this. i think of an upcoming practice and get discouraged at how much effort it will take. i survey my participation and wonder why it is i participate. there is another part of me that is able to continue on, to recognize that yes, i have done similar things before, yes, i can do them again, and it will be hard, but it is supposed to be hard. this part of me is very deliberate when trying to overcome pessimism, and i only get there through a lot of self-consciousness and effort.

upon facing staggering personal disappointment, i posted:

i failed.

i’m going to go cry, and then sleep, and then cry some more, and then persist, because i don’t know how to do anything else.

i worried that i would let this defeat me, even in the throes of motivation. i have made lofty goals before, and fallen apart in pursuit more than once. i have been thrown off track more than once this year, and i never rely on the coming month to be uneventful. i found a way to stay strong in pursuit of a goal i was determined not to let go – #persist.

persist is the guiding tenet behind a philosophy i follow but never put a name to. when i am faced with something unfathomable, i do not bother to fathom it. i put it out of mind and do it. persisting is not concerned with goals. persisting is concerned with process, and thereby eliminates pressure and fear from my mind when it stands in my way. don’t worry about the destination – keep your eyes on the road.

goals are important. i’m fully in support of goals. but when i set goals, i set them in such a way that i expect to succeed by accident. i separate the person who is setting the goals from the person who is doing the work, and in that way i am never tempted to self-sabotage by discouraging myself from doing work through fear of failure.

the reason this works well for me is because of my unsteady self-esteem. i plan where and when i’m going to do things. on days where i am terribly depressed, scared that i will fail, anxious about my ability to perform, and all the other things that i am anxious about, i do the work i have planned for myself. i design my habits, and i persist.

and so, when i am at my worst, i can have faith in my ability to persist. by separating the work from the plan, when things are darkest i can have implicit faith that someone smart came up with a solid plan and if i stick to that plan – if i don’t fall off, if i persist – that i will succeed. when i am depressed and feel like doing nothing, i persist, because it is just another appointment. when i am tempted to overdo it, go too hard and make myself sick, i persist, because rest and recovery is part of the plan. when i worry that i’m not keeping up, or that i’m embarrassing myself, or that i’m not enough, i persist. i accept that doubt and fear and depression are part of who i am, they come and i deal with them as best as i can, so i trust myself at my most motivated to make plans that do not affect those roadblocks. i know that mental turmoil is not going away, but does not have to be a handicap. i persist, because i don’t know how to do anything else.