From the struggling student to the rookie sports team, there is something magical about observing an underdog in action. An underdog is defined as “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.” There is just something magical about watching the unlikely hero emerge victoriously. It bolsters our faith that seemingly impossible challenges just might be possible.
But, most people just want to WATCH the underdog. They do not want to BE the underdog.
In middle school, I joined the track team. I loved it. I loved being on a team, chugging tons of water, and of course running. I loved it, that is until they announced our first meet. I did not want to compete. Terrified that I would get last place, I begged my parents not to make me go. They, however, gave me their best parent pep talk and assured me I would do great.
Well, I got to the meet, ran my guts out and lost. Humiliated, I determined I was not fit to be a runner and that I would never again run in a race. There was no heartwarming soundtrack playing, no Rocky Balboa stair climb. I up and quit and I felt rotten.
Underdog moments test our character. They provide opportunities for us to determine what is worth risking ridicule. When we rise to the occasion, we become our best selves. Unfortunately, as in my story, we often do our utmost to avoid these moments of stretching, causing us to reach only a fraction of our potential.
How can we embrace our own underdog moments instead of passively watching others defeat their own goliaths? How can we develop faith in the possibility of the seemingly impossible?
1. Foster grit – Psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, claims that success is not tied to talent or aptitude. Rather, successful people are those who just keep going. For those with grit, failure is not a stop sign, but a “full speed ahead.”
2. Believe you can improve – Early in my running career, I labeled myself as a “bad runner.” I felt certain that practice could never improve my incompetence. Instead of this mindset, I could have recognized the fact that our bodies and minds are surprisingly elastic. We are constantly learning and growing. We can change. We can improve.
3. Admit where you are at – Be honest and open with yourself about what you can and can’t do. This will help you set realistic goals. Tell someone you trust about your goal and be accountable to them on your progress/lack thereof.
4. Celebrate other’s successes – This may seem counter-intuitive, but it works. Prior to my race, I certainly didn’t hope that the other runners would do their best. I hoped they would all trip and break their legs. However, there is power in celebrating what others can do. This allows us to better see how hard work pays off and shows what is possible. We build a bank of heroes rather than a list of enemies.
5. Do what you enjoy – We do not have to be the best at something to enjoy it. Rudy, for example, did not allow his lack of talent to squelch his love of football. For me, abandoning racing had nothing to do with a dislike for running. In fact, I continued to run secretly because I enjoyed it so much but, I allowed the fear of other’s derision to hinder my efforts and slow my progress.
These attributes do not come easily, but through hard work, they can be gained. We can learn to embrace our underdog situations. Embrace our humility, vulnerability, and potential. This past year I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon, finishing second in my age group. And I could have sworn I heard the Rocky theme song.
Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Arranging flowers, perusing through old documents and spreading peanut butter on celery stalks are a few things that make her glad to be alive. Contact: Facererin@gmail.com