Fun fact: I pole vaulted in high school and college. I’d run down a narrow runway with a long pole, plant it into a hole in the ground, and launch myself over a horizontal bar onto a crash pad. Every time I cleared a bar higher than ever before, I would smile in that moment between clearing and landing, the closest to a feeling of flying as I’ll probably ever get, jump off the mat with my arms in the air and my heart pounding, greet the happy arms of teammates and coaches — that is, I’d celebrate, starting even before I touched the ground.
We all set our own bars in life, and then spend a lot of time preparing to run and launch over them, hoping a mat will be there to make a soft landing. We even try to ensure the landing is soft, by mitigating risk, but in life, in that moment of falling, there’s that fear that the landing might not be soft, that we may crash and not be able to try again.
In life, we seem to celebrate the landing rather than the clearing. We want to not only do the scary thing of launching ourselves over a bar, but we also want to make sure the landing works out, too — to know that everything will be okay.
Even though it is impossible to know.
I wrote in my journal last night that I don’t think I notice when I’m happy.
I didn’t mean that I never feel happy, or that I’m anxious or depressed all the time and therefore don’t feel happy, or that I’m some sort of psychopath without feelings (I swear).
What I meant is that I don’t let myself have that moment of smiling during the fall, that moment of pride and celebration before I even land.
I’m already onto the next thing, thinking about the next bar to clear, but oh wait I have to land first, and do I need a different pole for the next one, or a longer runway for my approach?
Instead of celebrating, I also think, okay well that’s done. There’s a satisfaction for having checked it off my to-do list, but instead of seeing it as an accomplishment worth celebrating, I think of it as a necessary step, one I had prepared to clear, so celebrating would be perfunctory, because I’m not “done” yet.
For example, I’m on the sixth draft of my novel. Sixth! So there have been five bar clearances so far, including the first one, which are all big milestones and accomplishments in and of themselves. Not to mention the little ones along the way: working out a scene that didn’t feel quite right, sending out to beta readers, restructuring the entire damn thing, writing something that wouldn’t end up in the novel but would help me understand a character better.
I would have felt silly celebrating each of these steps, because the novel isn’t “done” yet.
Clearing those bars seemed like I was meeting expectations. Meeting expectations is not a thing to celebrate. That’s average, routine, mundane. Something to check off the list.
If the bars I set for myself turn into expectations, then no wonder I can’t celebrate clearing them. And even if I set the bar really high for myself (which I know I do), then anything less becomes a failure. It means I define failure as anything less than the absolute best. It means I define success as doing what is expected of me. There is no room for celebration in that equation.
There is a catch here, the gray area to explore what this all means: if I’d like to reframe my definition of success, how can I do it in a way that doesn’t turn into settling?
Setting the bar high for myself and striving to clear it has given me a lot of success in life. So, it’s not about setting the bar lower and calling it good. It’s instead about putting that bar into context: it’s really damn high, I’ve done the hard work and preparation to even be able to attempt clearing it, and dammit I’m going to celebrate. Because it’s absolutely worth celebrating.
Maybe I’ll get that feeling of flying back.