There’s a reason why rowing is not the most popular sport.
Truth is, it’s a gruelling sport. I’ve been rowing for 5 years and it has never, not for one day, gotten any easier. Some days feel like my last in this sport. I feel defeated by it sometimes, unable to drill down the barrier between blissful gliding and exhausted scraping down the river.
Showing up at the dock before the sun comes out is a whole different challenge. Me and eight other teammates struggle into the boathouse. We get our oars. We carry our shell to the dock, we could do it blindfolded by now. We struggle into our seats and adjust our foot rests. No talking really happens at this point, it’s a very meditative practice for some. We count each other off by loudly stating “Ready!” from bow to stern, it feels like a wave roaring down the boat.
“Ready. Row!” the coxswain yells out. The next hour and a half will be a test of our commitment and mental strength.
Whoever tells you rowing is a physical sport is just being nice to you. Maybe they are modest, perhaps they want to recruit you. Rowing is mostly a mental sport. There’s only so much your muscles will take before your brain deems it too dangerous to continue. Most of us stop at this point. We feel the burn in our legs, we become dizzy, short-breathed. To simply put it, we feel pain. Well, this is exactly where competitive rowing starts. We have to train ourselves to ignore the rising DEFCONs our brains are emitting. We have to push harder, then harder again. We have to visualize the rising lactic acid in our muscles as the opposite of what they makes us feel, transforming pain into comfort. The mind is a powerful tool.
I have had more than my share of struggles in rowing. I’ve talked to my coach and I’ve considered throwing in the towel a couple times. One day, when the end seemed near for me, she sat me down. She told me one of the most valuable pieces of insight I have been given.
“Today, you will finish what you started, and race on that boat with your team. You can quit tomorrow.”
It seemed harsh at first, but I did it. I strapped myself in for the last time. As I was rowing in that cold October morning, I began to realize my love for this sport and why I do it week in and week out. I do it because it makes me feel alive. I do it because rowing is a way for me to cognitively challenge myself, and improve upon my practice. I didn’t need to quit the next day, but it sure helped me get through my morning of self-doubt.
If you are struggling in an aspect of your life, quit tomorrow, not today. If you are a designer, as I am, perhaps you will push like never before. Maybe you will find the one small thing that keeps you coming back, or rediscover your muse in the process. For all one knows, creativity and communication will burst through you knowing this is your last day.
But it won’t be, will it? You love this too much to let it go.