Saturday morning, competition day one I wake up on time (rare). I know I’ve been training every discipline in smarter, better ways – almost exclusively on paper. I’ve improved so much since the Asian Open some weeks ago. (There, a typhoon delayed the competition, I was overworked, I had little training, even less sleep, ate nothing but candy, improvised 552 of my 1352 images for cards and reused loci twice.)
Two mock championships indicate I should improve my ranking by a lot (which is important if only because the better ranked get to choose their seats first for the World’s and sitting at a strategic place is important for focus). With a bit of luck, I can break the world record in three out of ten disciplines. I’ve slept well, I didn’t go out for drinks the night before… I have my timer, marked cards, transparency sheets and stationary… I’ve never been so prepared for any competition.
And still I wake up with a thought in my head that echoes like the sound of a gong:
“I don’t want to compete”.
Awfully ironic since the only thing I want to do when I’m not competing is to compete.
Day 1 – Opening ceremony and the competition begins
Here’s a clip of us trying to get the group picture taken. Day one ends and I’ve done bad in every single discipline compared to my training scores. Even though I already have some gold and silver medals, I feel like giving up.
Day 2 – final competition and the award ceremony
I felt slightly better at the prize ceremony with some good tunes
Despite going slower, repeating more and reaching for less – adjusting for what seems to be a lowered ability during this competition – I still end up with lots of gaps. I finish in second place. On the flight home my glass trophy rests in a bundle of medals and scarves in my carry-on. And I feel like the biggest loser ever.
Because competitions for me are, ironically, more about my own performance relative to my training and less about how well I do compared to others. And relative to my own training, it was really bad.
Possible reasons it didn’t go well:
- I had PMS (the dysphoric sad kind, not the angry-cursing-the-Gods-for-no-ice-cream-in-the-freezer kind).
- I haven’t been working out enough since the beginning of August, which has lead to more brain fog and now it’s really caught up with me.
- A consequence of not working out enough is that I’m not eating (well) enough.
- I was cold and shivering from the AC. Singaporeans are used to indoor winter. The Mongolian-Swede living Texas was not. I made a not-so-bright last-minute decision to not bring my blanket. The second day I wore half of the clothes I had brought with me, layer-on-layer-on-layer. My grandma calls this “going onion”. I went big onion.
- My hat was too small and it hurt my head. Again. The previous one I had in Hong Kong burst open during 30-min cards. When will I ever find a hat that is big enough?
- I didn’t turn off social media notifications.
- I didn’t know the exact gate to enter at the venue.
Psychological & social
- I missed friends and family.
- A big motivation for this competition was to be better than Huang Shenghua and Simon Reinhard. I only found out last-minute that neither of them were competing. I was prepared to outperform them, but I wasn’t prepared for them not competing. Motivation dropped and the pressure to win increased.
- I missed the upbeat energy of Team Mongolia.
- I was sad because some major opportunities for cool experiences (and lots of dough) fell through and thinking about outside matters made me lose focus.
- Worried about loved ones who were in difficult situations that weekend.
- I let people’s opinions of me affect me. Most people don’t mean anything by commenting on your performance, appearance and so on… they’re just making conversation. I need to learn to handle it better. When shooting for IKEA I learned to give a stern “no” when anyone asked if I was tired and it effectively shut off any further conversation about fatigue (“you look tired, are you jet-lagged?” a kind and empathetic question, but alas not very helpful). That was a good coping mechanism, I need more of those.
- The need to be nice (or perceived as such). I don’t have to take pictures with everyone who asks, answer every question, do every interview or perform, not during a competition. I should remember I’m there to compete.
I used to think it was for the people (and the lifestyle!). But after taking a break for two years I realized I just really love competing – the opportunity to grow as a person, improve and master specific skills. When I’m truly one with it, in flow… it’s one of the fullest expressions of my inner being. It feels like life.
I relate so much with these words said by Maria Sharapova, on life around competing:
There’s moments of this that happen. As an athlete, you surround yourself with people’s opinions or choices or money and wealth, and it’s very … It’s such an easy distraction. I surrounded myself with good people, and the friends that I have today were my friends when I was a young girl. […] My mom is still very much my best friend. And another really good friend of mine, I met when I was 11 years old as well. I have this fondness of developing these real connections with people. I think it was so helpful for me as a young girl, because I competed in front of thousands of people and I still do. The walk to the tunnel and the walk to a press conference, and the walk back to the hotel room, it’s a very lonely journey. It’s difficult … You’re in your mind a lot, and you’re thinking a lot. So, when you have voices next to you that are the right voices, then it’s so helpful. But I know how hard it is to find. But I do believe that that is a big part of my success.
I felt I had done everything right for the first time and still lost.
The good news is you can do everything wrong and still win.
Which is how I feel most competitions go for me anyway, just not this one.
Final note: competitions most often don’t accurately reflect progress. I had an “off” weekend, but I’m better skilled now than I’ve ever been.
Highlighted thoughts on competitions, from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle