Once upon a time, I was an amateur long jumper. Really!
It was several years ago, in the late 90s, and was during the time that I worked as a scientist in drug development R&D.
The long jump is where you run as fast as you can and jump as far as you can into a sand pit.
I loved it. I dreamt of one day breaking the world record. It’s almost 9 metres for men. That’s over 29 feet. I was about 2 metres short, but I loved it all the same.
I competed for a club called Sale Harriers, who were based in Manchester, UK. I was their number two long jumper at the time. The number one was the then UK champion who was jumping around 8 metres.
I was never near the top echelons of the sport, although I did reach the final of the Scottish Championships in 1996 when it was being used as a UK-wide qualification event for the Atlanta Olympics.
I finished 8th from 8 in the final, but I felt proud that I got that far in the competition. I had a full-time job and was also lead singer in a local soul band, so I didn’t dedicate the time needed to train.
I had an equal interest in coaching. After a year with the club, I became the club’s long jump and triple jump coach as well as manager of the junior men’s team.
I loved coaching. The athletes did great. The team reached the UK championship finals on three consecutive years and the long jump / triple jump squad picked up a host of individual medals.
I recall explaining to one of the athletes why it was so important to dip before you jump up, and therefore why it was important to work on specific exercises known as plyometrics that could improve his spring and strength.
“Have you ever noticed that sometimes in life, before something good happens, shit seems to happen first?” I asked him.
He was able to relate to that and did so with a wry smile. It’s quite a common experience in life. It doesn’t always work that way, of course. Good things often happen without something negative first. But it’s a common enough experience that most people can relate to it.
“The dip into the shit and how bad that feels gives you strength and motivation to jump out of it into something better,” is how responded. Roughly. It was over 20 years ago, so my exact words are a bit cloudy now, but it was that or thereabouts.
“So with the long jump, you need to dip before you leap and this is why we do these exercises, so you have the strength to get out of the dip and propel yourself up and forwards.”
It’s funny, back then I was a jumps coach and I used a metaphor from life to explain why jumpers need to train the way they do. Now, 23 or so years later, I find myself doing it the other way around. Same metaphors but just in a different order.
I’m using it this way around because I think it’s so easy for us to think we’ve failed when stuff seems to take a downturn. We secretly believe that we’re not good enough, or not intelligent enough, or not this or that enough … or just not enough! And we give up.
But ups and downs are normal in life. Life seems to work that way. Nature itself is cyclic. Day and night. You breathe in and out. You step with one leg and then the other. The heart beats. Things go in and out, left and right, forwards and backwards, up and down. This is the way of life.
I’d be more surprised if in the pursuit of our goals, hopes and dreams, that everything always went smoothly.
So maybe when things seem shit at times, you’ve not failed or screwed up, you’re not lacking, you’re not rubbish. Maybe you don’t need to give up. Life just happens to sometimes dip before it leaps.
So if you think things have taken a dip for you, maybe life is just getting you ready for your next leap up and forwards.