I took my 14 year old daughter to see Wicked at the Kennedy Center this week. What an incredible show. What an incredible message. Young people everywhere are walking away with the courage to take on the world. Tapping into the ‘something that’s changed within them.’ Why not throw off what holds them down? Defy gravity and fly! It’s what every teenager wants to hear. Heck, who doesn’t?
But I wonder if defying gravity is really such a good idea.
When I was in high school, adults told me. “You can be anything you want to be! The sky’s the limit!” That sounded wonderful. They were trying to encourage me. As a young female, newly minted in the glow of Title IX legislation and the women-in-the-workplace movement, there were plenty of voices assuring me that opportunity was knocking. I just needed to answer the door.
In the years that followed I found two problems with that:
- “Be anything you want”‘ is vague. As a teen, what I needed was direction and focus.
- “The sky’s the limit” is high. As a female striving to meet expectations, this left me feeling liking anything earthbound was underachieving.
I wonder if better advice wouldn’t have been: find what you like and are good at and be your best at this. And here’s the important part: If things start going poorly, don’t be afraid to change course and do something more fulfilling, for less money or less glory. You’ll be happier and healthier. I think this is advice our young female athletes need to hear AND BELIEVE today.
I recently road up in an elevator with a woman who shared (probably because I was in an Ace wrap and on crutches) that she felt my pain. She told me she had had 37 knee surgeries. Thirty seven! She proceeded to detail how many ACL’s, how many MCL’s, meniscal repairs and which knee had which.
“Soccer?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was a defender for Ohio Wesleyan. They’re Division I.”
This woman was in her mid thirties. I couldn’t help wondering how she would be getting around when she was 50, let alone 70.
What drives a young woman to keep rehabbing and coming back to play after repeated and devastating injuries? To endure the pain, the work, the hardship? To risk their bodies again and again? Frankly, to me it sounds insane. (and expensive to our healthcare system. Budget, anyone?) Why not realize this is not good for you and stop? The answer for this woman was:
- I am a Division I soccer player and
- If not that, then who am I?
Now, her answer is: I was a DI soccer player. Now I’m a soon-to-be middle aged woman who’s knees hurt all the time.
Our young girls are getting their identities wrapped up in the game they’re playing and the team and teammates they are playing for. This works …until injury strikes. Through tunnel vision from the sidelines they see only one way to go. Defy the odds. Get back into the game. Don’t let anyone down.
Can we please start telling our young female athletes:
- “It’s okay to stop playing soccer. Your long term health is way more important than the game and any team. Or
- “Cut back. Play for fun.” You don’t need to train 3-5 hours per day and then start your homework at midnight. We won’t love you any less if you aren’t on a nationally ranked soccer team. And, in fact, you might love yourself more.
Gravity may have some wisdom we are meant to abide by. What’s holding us down may be ourselves. Maybe we can pay more attention to the “something that’s changed within us” and be changed for good.