This weekend I ran my first Tough Mudder. I found it to be one of most impactful events I have ever experienced. During some of the more grueling parts of the event I couldn’t help but think how much this challenge paralleled life itself. Even though this event was very moving, this experience is not to be confused with the most significant events of my life, such as my marriage to my wife, Carrie, and the birth of my children.
The challenge started with some pomp and circumstance and we were off, full of excitement and anticipation. We were treated to a beautiful jog along a meandering path. Why not, life can be beautiful. We joked and chatted. There was talk of the obstacles ahead, but the concern was minor. I mean, at this point, like life’s struggles, these obstacles were not real because we had not yet encountered them.
Soon the first obstacle was upon us. We crawled through cold mud under barbed wire. Everyone came out successfully. We continued on our way. But I noticed the bounce had left everyone’s stride. Running with mud filled shoes and wet heavy clothes can be difficult. It was like going through life with an added burden. Participants started to understand it was going to be a long day.
The next obstacle was a little more interesting. It was a wall that slanted backward. The only way to overcome this one was with the help of friends and strangers. Our team was still together. With a little help from our friends we all overcame this challenge fairly easily. We gave each other high fives. Success comes easily with the support of friends. The celebration of friends overcoming life’s challenges can be energizing.
The obstacles and the miles kept coming at us. Individuals started wearing down. Friends separated. The support and kind words of strangers became important. Each person’s response to the stresses was different. We were in this together. If one person faltered, another was there to help them along. The reason the human race is able to move forward is often by the kindness of strangers.
So why is the Tough Mudder a metaphor for life? As I approached each obstacle, the first thought I had was that I wouldn’t be able to overcome this. To overcome obstacles in life, you must cancel out those negative thoughts and develop strategies that will lead to success. I spent most of my summer training for this event. I had to trust my training and change my self talk. I traded, “I am not young anymore” with “Age is a mindset. I am strong enough.” I looked for ways to be successful. I immediately came up with a plan of attack. If needed, I asked for help. With each success, I gained confidence. I grew stronger.
When I finished the event I started thinking about my past. As I replayed my life’s movie, I remembered obstacles that I thought I would never overcome. When I look at myself now, I see an individual made strong by life’s trials. Life is a “Tough Mudder.”
Life will keep coming at you like the climbs and descents of this challenge. Life doesn’t have to defeat you. There will always be obstacles. Be as prepared as you can. If needed, reach out to your friends and to strangers. Know that when you come through the challenge you will be stronger.
In life you never know what is going to happen, however, you do know that something will happen. Your car will break down. You will get sick. Since there really is no way to prepare for what you don’t know, you have to believe in yourself. You have to have a positive mind set. You have to have grit. For this challenge I had to ignore the demons who whispered that I would fail. Obstacles aren’t there to destroy you. Obstacles strengthen you.
In closing I am going to get real. By sharing my experience, I hope to be able to motivate others to overcome obstacles and to reach their goals. However, if you are really looking for inspiration, talk to a cancer survivor or listen to stories of D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. Have your dad or grandpa tell you what it was like trudging through chest high water in the jungles of Vietnam. Ask these people how they overcame these obstacles. Those experiences are not just metaphors for life. That is life. Experiences like those reduce one of my most impactful, moving experiences to nothing more than crawling through mud and playing on Monkey Bars.