Coming to terms with the mortality of success remains the harshest reality to strike me in the past two years.
The summer before I started college I won two national championships in the high jump and competed at the 2014 World Junior Championship. Since my junior year of high school I believed I was going nowhere but up, and my successes only reinforced the naïve belief.
I started jumping my freshman year of high school. I came from a family of volleyball players, but I never wanted to associate myself with my sisters’ interests. Essentially coached by a school priest and YouTube videos, I took to the event quickly and became passionate about every aspect of jumping. Freshman year was a season of constant improvement. I hit a slump in my sophomore year, which led me to make a series of influential changes, the greatest being the decision to devote myself to my faith.
I began devotional sessions every evening, reading the Bible and writing about how the message spoke to me. I attended church every Sunday with my parents, and rarely took a Sunday off, even when I was traveling. My junior season began with a personal record, and ended with a state championship after finishing first in every meet of the season. Through the entire season I made it a point to recognize my trusting relationship with God as the reason for all success. I continued this mentality into my senior season, and I continued to get better.
On the morning of the New Balance Outdoor National Championship, I attended church with my parents. I found a small Catholic church in Greensboro, NC, which is now one of the most memorable churches I have ever visited.
Not one part of me was nervous. I knew that I had prepared as much as I could, and it was now in God’s hands. Throughout the competition I remained in constant conversation with God. I never asked for a victory. I simply just asked for His presence. I went on to win the competition without a single miss and achieved a new personal record. I used my faith in the next championship two weeks later and the success continued. The great change came after the world championship.
I slowly began to believe my success was a result of my own work. My focus shifted from God to myself. I transitioned into an arrogant and ungrateful athlete. I can remember throwing fits at my parents when I did not get what I want, at one point exclaiming, “I did this all on my own. You had nothing to do with it.” I had truly let the success consume me. I broke promises I made to myself and to God. Going into college, I believed there was no way I could fall down. I convinced myself I would continue to progress the way I had been the past two years.
Boy, did I get slapped with humility! I never stopped working hard. I never missed a day of practice. I never gave up on my dreams. However, I did give up on the one thing that got me to where I am, my faith and humility. College has absolutely not gone as planned. I jump significantly lower than I did as a senior in high school. Some days it even feels as though I am continuing to fall down into a hole and there’s no way out. In all of this pain and struggle, I have matured and learned more about myself than I ever would have had everything gone as planned. You don’t truly realize what you are blessed with until you are knocked down scrambling to get back up.
Now, I make it my goal to find my faith again and remain humble, so when I get back up and find success again, I won’t allow the same arrogance to creep in. I no longer believe my success is inevitable. I understand nothing is a guarantee.
I have been taught more by failure than success could ever teach me. None of this means that I have accepted failure or that I am content with where I am, and I shouldn’t be! You are allowed to be upset by your failures.
To pull a quote from Meredith Grey, “Progress looks like a bunch of failures. And you can have feelings about that because it’s sad, but you can’t fall apart.” It isn’t always about how you feel about failure; it’s about what you do to keep yourself together so you can move forward. I choose to use my faith to hold me together.
Find what keeps you grounded, let that pull you to the top, and know that some things are greater than success. As I begin to focus more on humility, I try to keep a verse from Proverbs in mind: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Proverbs 18:12).