The unfortunate reality of human existence is that we aren’t born with equal abilities or opportunities. We are a product of nature and nurture, but nurture (learned/taught behavior and the subsequent action you take) can only make up for so much. Some of us are born into abject poverty even by third world standards. Others are born in countries where either for social or actual legislative reasons, certain doors are closed or extremely hard to open if you happen to be born of a certain ethnicity, nationality, religious background, gender or sexual orientation.
So the statement “your life is your fault” is clearly untrue. However, I try to live by these words (although I absolutely don’t hold others to this statement). The reason being is agency. Agency is your ability to change your circumstances, and one of the biggest threats to agency besides the obvious barriers you are born into, is your perception of how much agency you have. There is so much research it’s not worth citing it all, supporting the fact that individuals with greater self efficacy (your perception of agency) are more successful in all facets of life. People who believe they are acting in the world and have some ability to direct the course of their lives invariably are able to achieve more and are happier than those who perceive their life as “happening to them”.
For this reason, I try to look at every challenge I’ve faced (even the most gut wrenchingly awful experiences in my life) as my “fault”. Now, not “my fault” in a negative blame sense, but rather from the perspective of “what can I learn from this?”. You might be thinking “but shit does just happen to you” or “that’s just a coping method”. In both cases you are right. We can’t stop shit from just happening to us, but taking a solution oriented perspective in response to such occurrences helps you move on and grow, and yes, it’s absolutely a coping mechanism and that’s ok! We will all experience awful things in life and we NEED coping strategies of some type to move on, and I think as far as coping strategies go, this a relatively good one (although it can prompt you to avoid experiencing grief and jump to solutions too soon…still gotta process).
Now, what the hell does this have to do with bodybuilding? Well, I actually figured this out for myself initially by watching how some bodybuilders responded to their placing backstage in my first season. And man…short of watching preschoolers trying to share toys, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such tantrums thrown than I have by a few bodybuilders backstage over the course of my decade or more in the sport! Unfortunately, many bodybuilders blame politics, bad judging, or favoritism for their placings…not all bodybuilders, but an unfortunately large minority.
Ironically enough, this reaction is ALSO a coping strategy. If you placed poorly after months or years of hard work, that can be a big blow to your motivation and maybe even your self worth if that’s tied up into your athletic identity. Blaming something external to you for your placing (like judges) protects you from the mini-crisis of that “failure”. I get that, and that’s an understandable knee jerk reaction…but don’t let it be more than that. Because, that reaction is also giving away your agency. If you did everything right, and you still placed poorly…what can you do? Nothing! You just made yourself powerless. This coping strategy is actually quite disastrous in the long run even if it feels good in the short run. Each time you place poorly, and blame something external, you lose agency, you miss an opportunity to improve, you stunt your personal growth, and the result is that ultimately you will quit. Finishing your career a bitter person who sees the sport you once put your blood sweat and tears into as an empty charade.
That’s a tragedy. But, it’s an avoidable one. My advice, find a way. Find a way to keep the ball in your court. Don’t hand the keys to your success and happiness to other people. Train yourself to point the blaming finger inward after your knee jerk reaction of pointing outward. There is something to learn from failure every time. It hurts to find it, but it will hurt you more to look away from it in the long run.
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