Toughness

You need to be tough to succeed!

Saying that the road to becoming the top athlete in my country is very difficult is a huge understatement. It is the journey rather than the destination and sadly, it is a path guaranteed fraught with much hardship, sacrifices and failures that many Singaporeans, confined to safe and comfortable lifestyles, choose not to take.

I remember going on one of my very first runs when I was fourteen. The sun had already set when I was jogging home. I unfortunately stepped into a small ditch and fell, incurring a long 10cm cut on my thigh. Blood flowed ceaselessly down my leg, a gruesome spectacle still etched in my mind and the searing pain from my leg threatened to overcome me. There was no one to ask for help but neither did I need it. I persevered and still jogged back home. I started running again just a few days later with a huge bandage patched to my leg. I was determined not to let my pain dictate me. No one can tell you what really being tough is like unless we go through it ourselves and learn from it.

Everyone needs to be tough

Sadly, most of us will only ever know mediocrity throughout our whole lives…

How has our upbringing from parents and society shaped our toughness? Boys are often taught to ‘suck it up’ or ‘walk it off’ but girls typically have their pain and hurt feelings fawned over a bit more. Furthermore, I will argue that the biggest irony in a developed country like ours is that we generally do not really have the opportunities to learn how to be tough not just physically but more importantly, in terms of mental fortitude and resilience as well. These days parents treat their kids both male and female more and more like delicate flowers, rarely teaching them the physical and mental toughness required of rigorous athletics or life for that matter. We live in the ‘participation trophy’ generation, the ‘strawberry’ generation and the instant gratification generation, without learning the skills nor the mindset to endure the long hours, months and even years of the pain and hardships that great success will ask of us. As such, sadly, most of us will only ever know mediocrity throughout our whole lives.

Doing just enough is just setting up a date with mediocrity.

Yes training is hard. Studying is hard. Training and studying is even harder. Training extra and studying extra is thus what separates the best from the rest. Doing what is convenient is easy but doing what is right is hard. Dedication is the key. You have to prioritize all the insignificant yet so-called ‘important’ things that you do everyday, like watching the TV or playing games or window shopping and make meaningful, positive life-changing sacrifices. I make an effort to have an extra session at the gym on my own even after my trainings. I can choose to go straight home and relax over television, patting myself on the back declaring that I have done enough. Enough however, is not enough to become the top athlete or getting your ‘A’s in exams. Doing just enough is just setting up a date with mediocrity.

The saying goes that we learn more from our losses than we do in our victories is true

For sure you will fail sometimes, if not many times. Nobody said it was going to be easy. There will be times when you lose or fail to achieve your goals but I have learn to love the journey of progress as much as the destination. Failures are only bad if you do not learn from it. However, if you do, the experience from failure becomes invaluable in making you a better person. When I lost, I did not wallow in despair. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” I let the pain of failure fuel me to do better and got back up as soon as I can. The saying goes that we learn more from our losses than we do in our victories is true. Failures require us to examine our mistakes. When our weaknesses are exposed, it forces us to see where we can improve. When you win, it’s easy to gloss over those mistakes and just bask in glory. Fail, learn, grow and become tougher in every aspect of your life.

My sport of long distance running is a microcosm of my life. My road to the top is not a sprint but a marathon, with the ugly and the good, with failures and small, steady bits of improvements. I do not seek instant gratification but enjoy the process of steady progress. Most importantly, I am very clear that no success ever comes easy. As Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and one of the most successful people in the world said, “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse but, the day after tomorrow will be very beautiful.” It is interesting to note that after saying that, Jack Ma also mentioned that “most people die tomorrow evening.” That is where toughness is required. It is not easy to be tough but we can slowly learn to.

This article is based on a guest contributor’s true experiences and sacrifice.

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