Photo by Andrew McElroy on Unsplash

Tough Situations: Hopping over Hurdles

I’d just watched every single one of my friends bite it big time. Some of them managed to clear the first few hurdles. But eventually, they all face-planted into the track, embedding tiny bits of dirt and gravel into their unprotected knees. Yeah, I didn’t want to do that.

During our senior year in high school, our PE class lined up to take a timed track test. We had to run and jump ten hurdles, each spaced a few yards apart. The hurdles were well over two feet tall. And did I mention I just watched a ton of people fail miserably?

The problem was, though, this wasn’t just a test of my athletic ability, speed, or grace. As an overweight and well-endowed young lady, my comfort while in the spotlight was about to be tested, too. I was wearing what could only accurately be called an “over-the-shoulder boulder holder.” (At the cup size my ample chest required, lace, frills, and bows are replaced with spandex, shoulder cushions, and thick elastic.) But that still would do little to guard me from the humiliation of being stared at. Did I mention that I didn’t want to do this?

I was stuck. I was screwed. And while I wasn’t in a hurry to go first, I certainly didn’t want to prolong my agony by putting off the inevitable either. It was going to happen. There was no way for me to get out of it. And my boobs were going to have to go with me! Even though this happened nearly thirty years ago now, I can feel my emotions at that exact moment, the moment I bent down to tighten the laces on my shoes to stall for a few more seconds. I was next.

We’ve all been there. Maybe not on a track about to jump over hurdles. But we all know the feeling—the feeling of helplessness, trapped, cornered in a situation where the only way out is a way we’d rather not face at all. It sucks. I knew it then, and I still know it now.

As I hovered over the gravel, taking an extraordinarily long time to tighten my laces, I realized something. I did something. I asked backward. That is, instead of continuing to focus solely on the outside situation I was in, I started to think about myself. I wasn’t in control of the challenge I had to face. It was going to happen despite how I felt. But I realized I could affect how it happened. If I had to do it, I would do it on my terms and in my way. And I wasn’t going to ask permission first. I walked over to the chalk start line in the dirt and waited for the teacher to hit the stopwatch. And so did everyone else. I was poised to start, and the peanut gallery was ready for the show. Again, did I mention I didn’t want to do this?!

For the few yards leading up to the very first hurdle, I ran like the wind. I ran like I’d never run before. Then, just inches before the hurdle, I dug my shoes into the gravel and came to a grinding halt. While standing still, I carefully swung one leg over the hurdle, followed by the other. Then, once again, I ran like the wind to the next hurdle, and the process started all over again. I looked at nothing—I thought of nothing—but each hurdle that still lay ahead of me. By the time I reached the tenth and final hurdle, I was out of breath, but both my knees were intact and entirely rock-free. Sure, I had to do it. But I’d done it my way. I had hacked it. I had hacked the heck out of that situation. And my teacher’s response said it all: He was bent over laughing. He’d never seen anything quite like it. But make no mistake, I had met the requirements and had gotten a pretty darn good time to boot!

Fast forward many, many years, and I still think of that experience when I feel stuck and helpless. Every single one of us will face situations that make us feel this way. However, the most important thing is not to prolong the discomfort or exhaust our emotional and mental energy by trying to wish things away, by wishing things were different. They’re not and likely will never be different. You feel stuck because you are stuck. As with many difficult situations in life, there’s often no way out except directly through it. That’s fact.

But thankfully—even when we can’t make a challenging or uncomfortable situation go away—there’s still much we can do to make it better. There are always things in your control, and there are always things you can do to make things better. And that’s fact, too.

What are a few specific things that are always in your control no matter what?

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