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How Letting Go Gave Author Kelli Wheeler Freedom in Midlife

By KELLI M. WHEELER

I’ve always been a competitive person.

In elementary school, I had to finish first, get an A+, and outrun any game of tag.

This evolved into more as I grew older. I needed to be the first in line, in the fastest lane, the girl who knew the most about sports, the woman who could shut down any debate.

I thought this was who I was. I’m here on this earth to compete. I always saw it as a positive trait. I was praised and rewarded for my overachiever tendencies.

But then, I got a reality check.

I was attending Maria Shriver’s book signing for And One More Thing Before You Go… when she was First Lady of California. I stepped before her with my copy and teased, “You’ve published four books before I can even get one published!”

Maria looked at me and said, “It’s not a competition.”

The rebuke stung. I mumbled something about, “You’re right, it’s not,” but my words had no conviction.

Maria was right. I should not be competing with other authors. We should be supporting each other.

So instead, I began competing with myself. I should do better, work harder, and be the best at whatever I set my focus on.

Let me tell you: I’ve learned in my 52 years on this earth that you will never win against yourself. There will always be a higher mountain to climb; an opportunity missed; a goal unachieved; a desire unfulfilled. It’s not because you haven’t tried hard enough or aren’t worthy enough. It’s simply life.

It’s not about winning.

The other day, I heard another set of words that hit me like a lightning rod. Brené Brown was on Guy Raz’s podcast, How I Built This, talking about her vulnerability research.

As I raced against myself on the elliptical machine, Brené talked about how we self-protect.

“One of the developmental milestones of mid-life is to understand: How did we self-protect as children? What kind of armor did we find when we were young to self-protect?” she said.

My body tingled. Being competitive was my armor, not my character trait!

As a young child, I was shy, introverted, and didn’t have a lot of friends at school. I was picked on—by my own family, with my most self-conscious physical features used to torment and tease me.

So rather than be vulnerable to rejection, I decided to wrap myself in an armor of trying to be faster, smarter, and more ambitious than those around me—in any way I could.

I see now how this will not serve me.

Ah, midlife. When you start to have more years behind you than ahead of you, life has a funny way of coming into focus. You start to realize what is important: people, relationships, kindness, helping others, cherishing what you have, and time with those you love and care about.

My competitiveness has been a lifelong trait. It’s taking time to remove it fully, but I’m trying every day.

I was recently on a bike ride on Sacramento’s American River bike trail. I felt triumphant that I had caught and passed a fellow biker and was now focused on putting distance between us. Suddenly, I rounded a corner, and the most breathtaking field of purple wildflowers stretched before me.

I wanted to stop and take it in. Get a picture. Relish in the beauty of nature. But my competitive nature said, “She’ll pass you if you do.”

Pedaling at 18 miles an hour past that gorgeous field, I heard another voice: It’s not a competition.

I slammed on my brakes and pulled over as my worthy opponent sped past me. As I soaked in the bounty, I relished the worth of stopping, removing my armor, and taking it all in. I like the new armor-free me.

So now I ask you: What armor can you take off to set you free?

Via Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper

Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey

Joyce Rey is one of the most respected names in luxury real estate worldwide, having represented some of the most significant properties in the world.

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