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Dig In: Being Honest About Your Strengths

This is the second post from guest blogger Stacey of Evergreen, Colo. She is an artist, mother and avid mountain biker who races with the Denver/Golden-based Dirt Divas. 

When I first started riding trails, calling myself a mountain biker made me feel like an imposter. After all, I wasn’t hucking my bike off big drops or bombing down technical singletrack–I was just trying to stay upright and survive. Therefore, the first time I joined a women’s group ride, I was intimidated. So intimidated, in fact, that I almost circled the parking lot and drove away instead of getting out of my car.

I put aside those fears as soon as everyone started talking. It was the first ride of the season, and all of the women smiled as they doled out what sounded like a litany of apologies.

“I’ll just bring up the rear today. I haven’t been on my bike in months!”
“Oh, I’m a slow climber; go in front of me.”
“I’m terrible at anything technical–keep your distance on the descents!”

And when it was time to decide on a group leader, everyone kicked at the dirt for a few uncomfortable moments until someone finally gave in. Sound familiar?

Guilty. My standard contribution to this conversation is, “I can climb, but I’ll let you all pass me before the descent!”

I’m going to hazard a guess that guys don’t regularly do this in the parking lot; in my experience, this is a chick thing. And at the time, it was comforting to my nervous, intimidated self. Maybe I wasn’t an imposter, after all. Maybe I wasn’t the only mountain biker who was actually sort of scared of rocks. Hey, I found my people!

But sometimes I wonder if this really hurts us.

As soon as we hit the trail that night, I found myself surrounded by some very strong, capable women, all of whom had their own strengths on the bike. Yes, I noticed some of their shortcomings, but only because they had pointed them out at the trailhead. So this begs the question, when we constantly give excuses for not doing well, are we also holding ourselves back?

I suspect that we are. I think that we are stronger when we choose to own our successes, and stop apologizing so profusely for our shortcomings.

I recently rode a local trail with my husband. I ride this trail a few times a week, and there’s one, gnarly downhill switchback that I just haven’t mastered yet. My husband is not a mountain biker–he probably rides his bike ten miles a year (I know...what’s wrong with him?!). But he rode up to that gnarly switchback on his $150 big box store hardtail and cleared it like it was no big thing.

I was so mad.

But it was all about confidence. I’ve been making such a big deal out of that switchback for two years that I was practically paralyzed about it. He’s so confident about his athletic abilities that it was no big thing. Watching him, I realized if he could do it, I could too. And I can.

Sometimes, the words we say about ourselves hold us back. In my case, it’s my constant assertion that I’m terrible at downhills and technical stuff. Say something a thousand times and you start to believe it.

Am I suggesting that we go the other way and fake overconfidence? No. After all, I think honesty about our flaws is what makes riding in a group of women so encouraging. But I’m suggesting we also be honest about our strengths. Let’s try to close the confidence gap between men and women by owning it when we’re awesome. Know what you can do well and own up to it. Know what you’re working on and own up to just that – you’re not “bad” at it, you’re just still working on it.

I recently had a meeting with the women’s mountain bike race team I’m a part of, and we introduced ourselves to the group with a short summary of our experience. It is a group of all levels with several beginner mountain bikers on the team, and I noticed a cool thing as everyone spoke around the circle: Instead of a litany of apologies, it was a resume of strengths.

“I’m really good at fast downhills.”
“I’m fit from running and triathlons, so endurance is my strength.”
“I have a lot of experience riding road bikes.”
“I love to climb!”

It was awesome.

I’m looking forward to riding with these women and learning from them this season. Where I have shortcomings, the others have strengths, and vice versa. The fact that there’s always a skill to work on is one of the things that keeps mountain biking fun and challenging no matter how experienced you are.

So I promise to stop apologizing about my downhill skills and to start owning the fact that I’m a good climber. I promise to stop acting like I’m an imposter when I ride with more experienced mountain bikers. And I promise I’m going to challenge myself to be a better technical climber this year.

What will you stop apologizing about this year?

+ If you missed Stacey's excellent first post about how mountain biking helped pull her out of a dark place, you'll want to check it out here. 

+ New to Dig In? Read the intro post.

+ Comment On This Post

Comments

Yes!

Thanks for this article. I find that I do this all the time - apologize for my shortcomings. Even as I utter the words, "You can go in front of me; I can't clear this section," I immediately cringe that I said them. It sets me up to not clear that section of trail before I've even reached it. I've noticed that one of the differences between guys and girls in this regard is that when a guy says something like, "I'm recovering from a cold and not feeling strong today," or, "I haven't ridden in weeks so I'm a little rusty," this translates into, "I'm going to kick all of your a$$e$ on the trail." Guys seem to say these things to psych out their fellow riders. A little confidence can go a long way. Even if we don't clear that tricky section of trail, if we approach it with a less defeatest attitude, one day we will conquer it!

No Apologies!

This is amazing. I just started a women's MTB team called No Apologies! based on this EXACT problem! I also felt the same "impostor syndrome" when I started mountain biking. Thanks for sharing!

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