Racing go-karts started out as a family hobby. What I didn't realize at first is that it is a training ground for life. I learned critical lessons before I hit puberty. Some lessons were excruciatingly difficult to accept and internalize. Others were extremely liberating. I will share them over my next several blogs.
Lesson #1: Fess Up When You Mess Up
In my rookie season at age 10, I started a race in fifth position. The drivers in front of me were all awe-inspiring champions (and all boys, but that didn't matter to me) who had been racing for years. Second and third place crashed in front of me. I made a few passes. All of the sudden I was in first!
The next two laps were exhilarating and terrifying. When the more experienced drivers caught up to me I tried going faster into turn six than normal. The kart wasn't turning fast enough so I turned more. Next thing I knew I was facing the wrong direction. I blew it and spun! I finished ninth.
I initially maintained composure when I got off the track. Shortly afterward I lost it. I was angry! I blamed my dad for telling me to try that move. His eyes grew infuriated. His mouth was tight.
He pointed at me and assertively jabbed me in the shoulder. Very colorful words left his mouth implying that it was my fault. He elaborated, "You were driving, not me. You made all the decisions on the track and you were the one who got flustered. NEVER, EVER blame anyone else for your mistakes."
I was flabbergasted.
But I also knew he was right. We had a lot of "debriefs" that night regarding my behavior. I went on to receive "Rookie of the Year" honors that season.
I was 11 when I entered the last race of the next season. I started in first place. I told my parents the kart was great and that I didn't want anything changed. It handled exactly the way I wanted during qualifying and I set the pole position. I knew I was going to destroy the competition.
The second place driver edged by me at the start of the race. I immediately saw red. I assumed the kart wasn't the same as before! My anger took over. How could my parents change the kart after I wanted it the same? They made me slower!
When the checkered flag waved I finished fourth in a race I expected to win. I pulled into the pits and turned off my kart. I lifted the front of the kart onto the stand as my dad lifted the rear. I trudged to the trailer, leaving my dad to push the kart back.
"You set it up wrong! I wanted it the same as before and you..." I knew I had made a terrible mistake. Just as with the year before, anger absorbed my dad's eyes.
I had done it again. I made the wrong decision for kart setup (I should have asked them to change it), then blamed others when I was the one with the wailing emotions and lack of composure. I should have admitted my error in judgment. I should have taken a deep breath. I should have focused on hitting perfect marks from there on out.
Worse still, I didn't own up to my responsibility. If I had, everyone would have accepted this race as a learning experience. Instead everyone was furious with me for unfairly blaming them.
That season I was named "Most Improved Driver" of the year. I felt that my biggest improvement, however, occurred the next year.
I took ownership of my performance during the season when I was 12. If the kart wasn't perfect, I made up for it with my driving. In one race I made contact with a kart going into turn one. We both damaged the front-end alignment. During another the air temperature heated up, making the track's surface oilier and therefore less grippy. I slid around the track. Bad things happen.
The team confers with the driver to set up the vehicle. But once the green flag is thrown everything depends on the driver. No matter what the cause of the imperfect vehicle is during a race, it is the driver's job to change his or her driving style to make the vehicle work. A true champion manipulates his or her equipment to win.
I was the track champion that year.
I couldn't have learned Lesson #1 without experiencing it. I had to grow up and acknowledge my mistakes. It was really hard! But it let me advance faster, with less baggage. I had to shelve my emotions when they interfered with my job. I had to assess my situation and improvise in my actions. It felt good to take control. It feels good to still be in control.
My ego didn't like admitting my mistakes. It still doesn't! It's embarrassing. I don't like being wrong. It's always easier to blame other people. In the long run, however, I know I am much better off having learned Lesson #1.
Now I always try to fess up when I mess up.
For more by Julia Landauer, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.