Setbacks and comebacks

Whenever I experience a setback in roller derby I go through a distilled version of the grieving process.

Photo by Roller Derby on Film

Training for over 10 hours every week is a big chunk of time to invest for anyone, but it’s not so bad if you feel rewarded for that investment.

This post is about the times when those rewards seem in short supply. It also covers the stages I go through when it appears as though all that effort has been somewhat overlooked.

Denial is probably the shortest lived of them — we’re talking around a five-minute timeframe tops. I consider myself a realist so generally like to just get on with it, but there is a part of me that initially thinks there might have been some mistake — cue the obsessive re-reading, you know, just in case.

Anger usually occurs pretty instantaneously, hot on the heels of the denial. I can be in a room alone, having found out about the latest roster announcement that doesn’t include me, swearing aloud at my phone and kicking stuff around. Breaking things makes it feel okay, until you need what you broke that day.

Bargaining is my go-to stage, whereas the first two are more like pitstops. I like to problem-solve, taking productive steps to improve a situation — so in my mind I very quickly move on to thinking that there must be a way to fix this. I’ll ruminate and mull and ruminate some more. I’ll Google how top level derby teams manage similar situations, look into league policies and basically do my research.

Funnily enough all this work tends to stay with me, as in I don’t do anything with it, but the process of researching tends to chill me out and provides some sort of validation to the way I’m feeling.

The depression stage is typically accompanied by thoughts like ‘All that work for nothing’, ‘Might as well not bother’ and ‘No such thing as a meritocracy’. Real Eeyore vibes (I definitely heard him say something along those lines once). Yet I think this is one of the most vital stages — it leads you to honestly question your own motivations.

Am I willing to continue grafting even though more setbacks are likely? When’s the cut-off? Why do I bother? If you can’t think of any reasons why you bother, maybe you should be focusing your energies on something else. Once I’ve reaffirmed, I’m generally ready to move on to The Big A.

Acceptance. This has happened, there’s nothing I can do to change it — what do I do now? How do I move forward? At this stage, I’m refocusing. Less looking outward, scrutinising everything and everyone, more introspection and planning. This is preparation for my next comeback. Deciding on a course of action and moving on.

I doggedly cycle through these steps after any rejection or setback on the road to achieving my goals. It reminds me of something Jimi Hendrix said in the book Starting At Zero:

It’s easy for repeated setbacks to force a self-fulfilling prophecy. You might begin to think ‘Well, maybe this happened because I’m not that good’. You start to feel as though everything you do in training is wrong, because you’re clearly no good and there’s no point working hard because you’ll never be good enough.

This is a slippery slope and these behaviours are best nipped in the bud. I know it’s hard, but think of it like the previous jam. It’s done now, what are you going to do in the next?

I believe that none of this being easy means I am going to be a stronger person in the face of adversity than those who have had it easy.

And so, just like Jimi, my plan is to be stubborn.

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