A Limitless Definition of My Value

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“To define is to limit.” – Oscar Wilde

My mom cried when I told her I didn’t want to play basketball in third grade. Not that I remember my reason for not wanting to play, but it was probably because I didn’t want my dad to yell at me again while on the court in front of all my friends, coaches, and teammates, telling me to be tough even though I was sprawled on the court looking at my bleeding knee.

Growing up, I was expected to be athletic. Being beautiful was second priority, but that’s a whole other story that has very little to do with this one. Athleticism was already in my blood, passed on by very talented parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but my duty was to make my talents better than what had already been given to me.

In high school, I remember becoming a little distracted by boys and quickly learned this was unacceptable. College was near and not going just wasn’t an option. Of course, my elders wanted me to get an education, but they didn’t know why. If they didn’t know, how the hell was I supposed to know? What they did know, however, was that collegiate athletes were liked by many and seemed to be more fortunate in life.

“This is a time when you need to decide if you want to be successful or not,” my dad told me on my fifteenth birthday, in reference to sports. “Is it going to be volleyball, basketball, or track? And at what school?”

Needless to say, I basically grew up believing that success came from my accomplishments in sports. I won awards with titles defining how I performed throughout a season. The more I received, the more greedy I became, and it was an unhealthy addiction.

I stood out as a youngster and was taught that my value lied in my athletic achievements. If I had lost a race, I instantly felt invaluable. What was the point? I didn’t accomplish what I came here to do. And the toughest critic turned out to be yours truly.

Then I became a little smarter. I started to grow up and separate my own thoughts apart from others. I was discovering more about the person that I actually wanted to be. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy sports, because I really did and still do. They were a homey comfort to me, sort of like a safety net. A basketball court has always been a place where I feel accepted. I could probably even fall asleep with a volleyball in my arms as opposed to a teddy bear. But at a teen, I wasn’t sure if the athletic path was the one I wanted to take. It was just all I had known up to that point.

In an attempt to be “successful” the way I was taught, I competed for a well-respected collegiate track and field program, feeling like I had something to prove. Eighteen is a tough age for anyone, and after two exhausting years, I saw the perfect opportunity to stop wasting my time with meaningless efforts and activities that brought serious daily anxiety. I would never trade the friendships I made with teammates, nor would I take back the killer abs I worked so hard to get, but I had reached a stopping point. I wanted my freedom back.

I heard everything under the sun after announcing my discontinuation of organized competitive sports:

“What a waste of talent.”
Gee, thanks. Was this the only thing I was good at?

“Don’t ever quit.”
Well, either I become an Olympian (which I never even gave a single thought) or I move on with a more realistic career.

“You will regret it for the rest of your life.”
Okay, this one made me laugh. I have zero regrets so far.

“You’re missing out on a chance of a lifetime.”
Not really, I already ran in college for two years. Stepped foot on some of the fastest tracks in the nation. Worked with big names. Lost and won. Cried, sweat, bled. I know what it’s like. You don’t.

Most importantly, it doesn’t matter what other people said to me or about me. They have their own lives to worry about and it’s not their job to determine or evaluate mine. My value does not and will never be contained by my athletic ability. I am so much more and although I have real love for these sports as well as my individual journey through them, I will never let them define me. Sports may be what I do and what I enjoy, but they are not who I am.

What have you felt defined by in your past?

Jen Marley

Jen has competed in athletics her entire life and now feels the confidence to share her success (and failure) stories. She wants to decrease gymtimidation along with writing other challenging life experiences.

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