{How I’m Cultivating a Growth Mindset Right Now}

Watching the Tokyo Summer Olympics, I came across an event that simply amazed me: the sprint canoe race. I’m not sure if you’ve ever watched the sport, but let me tell you, it’s impressive. 

In a boat of one, two or four people, the athletes assume the position of a kneeling lunge in a boat about the size of a pea pod that looks as though it was expressly designed for throwing people out of it and into the water. They float at the starting line – a magical feat in and of itself – until the race starts, and then they’re off. Paddling with great skill and vigour, lunging into each and every stroke, expertly moving the pea pod boat across the water. They are FAST. 

As I watched the race, I felt energy bubbling up inside me.

I turned to my husband and I said,

“That is so badass. I could probably do that.”

The way he tells the story, apparently I said that after every Olympic event – LOL. In my recollection, however, this was the only one.

So I did what any aspiring Olympic sprint canoeist with a growth mindset would do. I got to googling. “Sprint canoe lessons Toronto.” And Google did not disappoint. There was a Learn to Paddle program starting in the Beaches in a few short months. I learned to paddle last fall, and I signed up for the full year in May this year.

On July 1st, I competed in my first regatta on Toronto Island. My name was on the card for 3 races: Women’s C4 (4-person canoe) 500m, Mixed C4 500m, and Mixed K4 (4-person kayak) 500m. 

I made my way over to the Island on the first available ferry that day, my stomach a bundle of nerves. Of course I was excited, but also filled with anxious anticipation. The dock was about 400m away from the starting line, and that athletes were expected to arrive in the starting area about 15 minutes before their race was to start. And THEN race 500m. 

Here’s what you need to know about me and my current skill level…

I’ve been canoeing for a grand total of about 2 months. I’ve only begun to make it through an entire practice without falling in the lake. Paddling 500 meters is enough of a challenge, let alone paddling 500 meters in a straight line after having already paddled 400 meters, then just hanging out in the wobbliest lunge of all time in a boat the size of a pea pod that was expressly designed to throw me out of it and into the water. 

I had so many questions…

Would I make it to the starting line? 

Would I successfully float around for a while without falling in?

Would I then actually be able to make it 500 meters?

In a straight line?

Without falling in?

And without taking a teammate or two in with me?

Would I ruin the race for the veteran paddlers?

Would they be disappointed in me?

I had so many questions, and if I’m honest, I doubted my ability fairly thoroughly. The stars might align for a successful race or two, but I did bring 4 changes of clothes with me, just in case.

I am delighted to share that….

Drum roll please….

I made it through all the races and managed to stay inside the boat the whole time!!! 

We even came second in one of the races. 

Of course, doing well can be exhilarating, but that wasn’t even the highlight of the experience. Growth mindset asks us to be willing to fail, to be open to possibility, and to believe in our potential to become skillful at new things. Learning to sprint canoe is a master class in these things.

By participating in what is amongst the more impossible-looking sports I’ve ever seen, here’s what I learned:

Failure is part of the process

Falling in happens. A lot. In fact, there’s no way you get to the Olympics in sprint canoe without falling in MANY times. Best to embrace it as part of the process, and keep on keeping on. Growth mindset for the win!

Start before you’re ready

I could have waited to enter a regatta until I felt ready. Perhaps I could have challenged myself to paddle 400m then float around for 15 minutes. Then I could have challenged myself to paddle 500m. Then 500m in a straight line. Then I could have put it all together. Once I knew it was possible, then maybe I could have entered a race then. But I didn’t do that. I started before I was ready, and have absolutely no regrets. This experience helped me calm my inner perfectionist and live into a growth mindset.

But also, prepare & practice

I started before I was ready, but I also put in the work. I showed up to almost every practice and challenged myself each and every time. When it was so windy and wavy that there’s no way I could go out, I paddled on the dock, practicing my technique and building up my endurance. When I had a chance to jump in a crew boat with a veteran, I took it. That enabled me to be out there longer and learn from some very experienced paddlers. I did my best, and didn’t worry about the rest. Learning into my ability to learn new things strengthens my growth mindset even more.

You can calm your fears

OK, so that last part isn’t entirely true. I absolutely worried. See: all the questions I had above. Every time I felt myself getting overwhelmed and thinking, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I would follow it up by asking myself, “Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” And the answer was always simple. I could fall in the lake. Well, I’ve done that at least a half a dozen times in the past month, and every time, the rescue boat is there within 30 seconds to save me. Sometimes answering the question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” can actually be calming as we recognize that we could totally handle it. Growth mindset doesn’t mean not having any doubts. It means working with whatever comes up and moving through it.

You don’t need to do it alone

A beautiful thing about this whole experience is that I did not do it alone. From day one, I was surrounded by a generous community of passionate paddlers who really want to see more people join the sport and have a great time. They gave me tips. They sacrificed their speed for my participation. They were willing to meet me where I was – which is totally beginner-ville – and for that I am grateful. Particularly on the back of a couple of years of social distancing, being held in community felt truly wonderful.

My heart was full of joy that day. I had so much fun, and I was also very challenged. I found that sweet spot where stress is just stimulating enough to excite but not overwhelm me, and the demands of the task at hand required my full presence. 

Listen, I know it’s not a very common thing to do, to sign up for sprint canoe lessons at the age of 42 with Olympic aspirations (ha!). But this is what happens when you say “yes” to what lights you up. When you start to say “no” to things that deplete you, you’re creating space for your YES. You’re making room for possibilities. You’re opening up to adventure and allowing yourself to come alive.

So, what totally impractical, maybe even impossible thing have you been tempted to try? Maybe the fact that you came across this story is the sign you’ve been waiting for. Maybe it’s time to do the damn thing. If you need some support, I’m here to help. Book a free strategy session and start reclaiming yourSELF today.

Check out the video of my race below! I’m the 3rd person in the last boat you can see here.