We all underestimate ourselves. It is not possible to live to the limits of one's potential everyday. The few times in a life that any of us find ourselves having to stretch beyond our comfortable places are usually spaced far enough apart that we forget over time how strong we have been. I know that this is true for me.
When I was 25, my life changed quite dramatically after what seemed like a pretty minor fall. For the ten years following that fall, I lived with the fallout of injuries that were bad enough to require me to go back to school after being declared, partially, permanently disabled. There were days I couldn't sit in a chair without losing the feeling in my hands or reliably hold a full coffee cup or lift anything over ten pounds without dropping it (including my infant son). Despite trying repeatedly, I could not play my flute for more than a few minutes without becoming clumsy and unable to finger the keys despite having played for almost 20 years.
It has been 15 years since that day, and with patience and lots of hard work, I am stronger than I was before I was hurt. The funny thing is, that even though I know this to be true, it still comes as a surprise to me when I am successful at something challenging that I would never have thought twice about back in 1995.
Just recently I completed my second 100K ride from San Francisco to Point Reyes Station and back. By most measures, I should not be able to do this. When I was first hurt I was told that these things would not be in my future. While I accepted that assessment at first, it is not in my nature to just roll over for defeat. I cannot say that I set out to ride my bicycle almost a hundred miles at a time, but when I realized I was riding 20-30 miles a day just about every day of the week riding around the City it seemed like a natural progression. By just going about my day and tackling the small challenges that came with it I was able to surpass any of the limitations that had been imposed on me 14 years before.
Because my injuries caused some paralysis in my arms, many things like rock climbing became an impossibility for me. Without the grip to carry a sack of potatoes how could I ever hoist myself up a rock wall? It wasn't even a hope on the horizon as I focused my energy on trying to reliably regain my penmanship and ability to safely use a kitchen knife. Again, with focus on the smaller, everyday tasks I found myself getting stronger and stronger. To the point that I was stronger than before I got hurt. Next thing you know, I was up the rock wall! Until that day I would never have thought that was possible.
Underestimation. It is insidious and it infects us all. We all lose faith in ourselves if something isn't right the first time or if we can no longer do things the same way we once did. When the goal isn't attainable by tomorrow we give up. It took me almost a decade to get back to where I was physically in 1995 and another 5 years to get where I am now. Most of the time I was unaware of just how strong I was becoming. It took me all of that time to accept that maybe the worst of that period was finally behind me. The injuries are still there and I have to keep aware of the fact that I could end up back where I was pretty easily if I am not careful, but it no longer limits me to know this.
As bad as the injuries were to my body and my mind, I am greater than that sum. I am stronger than that. I just have to keep remembering it.