Once I finished writing the following post, I really questioned whether I should put it up on my blog. It didn’t feel as light-hearted or uplifting as others I have written. I decided to let it go because there are a few lessons that I have learned that I would like to share. Perhaps they may help any of you that are currently struggling with transitions in your life. So here goes . . .
While trialing away from home these past few weeks a couple of incidents made me think of something “Karen” wrote on my blog. It was in her response to my question: “what separates you from the best agility competitors in the world.” Within Karen’s thoughtful reply was this sentiment:
Then again, I’d need one more thing…the desire to BE the best-of-the-best. While I admire those who are at the top of their game, I could not imagine living in a fishbowl in which your every move is scrutinized. And God forbid if the “top” handlers make a mistake!
This got me thinking about the label of “top-handler.” I remember teaching at one of those Clean Run sponsored mega-camps many years ago. Here a mass of “top handlers” where assembled to teach in one camp. I was exercising my dog outside when I overheard one novice-level student compliment another person on what a lovely dog she had. Now, unbeknownst to this novice student was the fact she was addressing a camp instructor, one of the so-called “whos-who!” The instructor turned to her and acidly questioned; “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who this dog is?” In the process, I am certain, she must have made this student regret her attempt to compliment another human being that day.
True, some of us do live in a fish bowl, but we need to remember it is only a small fish bowl in the big ocean of life’s accomplishments. We are not Mother Teresa, nor are we racing each other for a cure for cancer. It is dog agility. As important as it is to each of us at this moment, it still remains a hobby. Yes it is true, this hobby has turned into a wonderful career for some of us, but for me, the reason I compete remains the same. I love my dogs, I love to see them be excited by the chance to do something with me and I love to bring out the best in them. After years out of the veterinary pharmaceutical sales trade, I still have head-hunters phone me with offers to go back in the business and trust me, I would do it in a heart beat, if my motivation for dog training ever changed.
I think for some people that make the jump from an agility “wannabe” to an agility “look-at-me” somewhere in this transition things do change. Sadly that is often when dogs, ring stewards and other competitors get looked at with judgement rather than acceptance. It is here where more objectionable training techniques, that previously would have never been considered, are now routine, all born out of a disparate quest to beat another competitor with a great dog. Friends are “out grown” in a insatiable hunger to move upward and hang with people that support these new training views.
I was recently sent a insightful piece of writing by Maya Angelou. Maya was writing about negative thinking people whom she referred to as “haters”. As strong as that word is, it made what she was saying all the more powerful. In her piece Maya wrote:
“When you make your mark, you will always attract some haters…”
“The problem I have with haters is that they see my glory, but they don’t know my story…”
“If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, you can rest assured that the water bill is higher there too! “
I think life in the fishbowl is exactly as you would have it be. If it causes you anxiety, stress or embarrassment, I am sure on some level, it is where you want to be. It doesn’t need to be a top-handler -fishbowl either. It is no different that those of you that are amongst the “best” at anything; the top realtor, the best local quilter, a national’s agility judge, the parent with the best hitting little leaguer. There are lessons to be learned on the way up and and revelations about people on the journey. There is a great quote that “Sport doesn’t build character, it exposes it.” In the past few years there has developed an unfortunate “us against them” mentality in agility as people at or near the top of agility have chosen to follow one handling system over another. There has been some pretty blatant ridiculing (calling those of us that choose to follow the GD handling system “kool-aid drinkers,” not being the least of it.) During my recent trialing in Florida people actually laughed out loud, I mean really loud and pointedly long, when Encore and I weren’t on the same the same handling page and we had a mis-direction. To find that much joy in someone else’s struggles, is loathing on a level I hope I never feel personally for anyone.
I consider myself to be a good dog trainer in a world of many other exceptionally talented dog trainers. Young Gabreille and Tori are perfect examples of the existence of many others around us that possess great talent to train dogs. These two young girls are in a fishbowl of their own right now but the view from the outside looking in is not quiet as clear yet. With more success will come more viewers and more who will judge. Let them look girls, while you continue to be brilliant, never try to be perfect, only do what is best for you and your dog. While spending time in my fishbowl I try to put a positive spin on anyone that openly sit in judgement of me. Seeing their actions, immediately makes me think of gratitude. I am grateful for those that truly care about me, who are genuine in their delight of my successes, who support my dog training and rally around me when I fail– making it easier to fail once more and to learn from the experience. We all will fail occasionally and you need to not let those who will belly-laugh at you for doing so, alter your enthusiasm to allow yourself to opening fail once more. I believe I have won as much as I have in agility because I am not afraid to fail, I don’t get particularly nervous before any run because I am confident I am living out God’s plan for my life. A statement like that may make some of you uncomfortable, but I would hope you all have a higher power that gives you the peace that I have knowing He guides me in every aspect of my life. Our life’s plan includes dealings with the few morons out there as well as our enjoying the highs and yes enduring our tragedies too. In September 2005 I was at an USDAA Regional event in Dallas, Texas. I was having a great weekend. It was Saturday night and I was excited about the next day as Encore’s Dam team was in first place heading into the final round and I had qualified both her and DeCaff for the finals of the Grand Prix, with an automatic bye into the finals at stake. Then, after dinner that night, my brother called to tell me that my father had been killed in a car accident. My priority was to get home to my family as quickly as possible. The thought of agility was the furtherest thing from my mind. It is easy to let yourself forget, but important to make yourself remember, that the balance of world peace does not depend upon the outcome of your next agility run. I, like any of you I would imagine, am far from perfect. I get irrationally irritated at times. Just this past weekend I snapped at a ring stewart as I was trying to juggle my two dogs running in both rings at the same time. I felt like a schmuck right afterwards and I am glad I felt that way. Feeling that way makes me more accountable to people around me. Rather that reacting, I continue to try to think of gratitude. Gratitude always makes me feel good and helps me to see what a waste of time and emotion it is to allow yourself to be irritated by the actions of others.
Today I am grateful to the vast majority of people out there that can embrace the triumphs of others. Some of you, as Karen suggested, may just admire others achievements as some unattainable accomplishment that you have no desire to try to match. Others may be like me, you may be watching, but at the same time planning to take up the challenge to push the limits yourself, hoping to exceed all of your expectations in the process. Hopefully though, regardless of how competitive you may be, you can still respectfully acknowledge the mastery of that which you witness, regardless of who the conquerer is, or which side of the sandbox they normally play in.