03 Aug 2016
Last Friday the Year 12 Captains ran a thoughtful and compassionate Assembly, which touched the hearts of everyone in the Senior School. They focused on R U OK Day, explaining the origins, the reasoning, and the way we can use this philosophy to support one another in a society where we feel compelled to say we are okay – even when we are not.
Over the weekend I reflected on the Assembly and turned to Dr Brené Brown’s work on Vulnerability for further thought. Brown reminds us that living a brave life is not always easy, as we inevitably stumble and fall, but the willingness to show up and to be seen, with no guarantee of the outcome, is the only pathway to a fulfilled life. I realised that, so often I focus on providing a strong role model for girls and young women, but perhaps I don’t share with them my own vulnerabilities. And that this could be helping to perpetuate what I most fear for this next generation of women: the notion of perfection as normality.
Yesterday I shared with the Senior School girls one of my most vulnerable times in life. It is something that is often referred to, but something I keep very sheltered. In fact, beyond my immediate family, I have never let anyone watch the short video of me performing at the Olympics. In my mind it has not been good enough. I know I tried my hardest and did the best I could, but I always felt I let other people down. I allowed my disappointment and the words of others overshadow my achievement.
You may notice I write the word video. Part of my protection was to keep it in VHS form so it could not be shared. As with all girls, I have well developed self-protection strategies. On Monday, Mr Dale Moulton (Ruyton’s Audio Visual Theatre Technician) kindly updated my technologically-deficient past and, for the first time, I watched my performance with someone else - the very supportive Mr Moulton. And it was okay. On Monday evening Tino, my partner, who has tried every trick in his repertoire to view this footage, sat and watched it with me for the first (and possibly the only) time - without me hiding behind a cushion and giving a running commentary of my errors. In fact, I nearly enjoyed it. I focused on the excitement and the joy that gymnastics brought to my life: my dedication, determination and total love of the sport, despite the physical and emotional setbacks and disappointments. And I heard myself in a very awkward interview, when an ill-informed commentator spoke to two young gymnasts from the country that had qualified in the last two spots in the Olympics. He asked us if we were hoping to win and I said I wanted to do my personal best. And that is exactly what I tried to do.
So, 32 years later, I have finally come to terms with my Olympic journey and shared it with the girls who inspire me. I have remembered the brave and courageous 18 year old that I was, and how she fulfilled the dreams of a naïve, lanky and shy 12 year old, who fell into a sport she adored, by accident. I have remembered why I find it so important to acknowledge people for their endeavour. Mainly because I always wonder if that would have helped me to understand the experience better, at a time when I was so far away from the natural support of my family.
Having committed to the struggle for excellence, I have learned so much from it, and not much of that learning has been about winning. I like to think most of it has been about how to live my life well. If there is one thing I want for every Ruyton girl, it is to know that when she has given her absolute best, there is no more required of her. That being the best she can be must always be the aim, as so few can be the best. To give her best is something to be truly proud of.
I hope you enjoy watching the Rio Olympics and celebrate the moments of true grit, determination and personal best, while acknowledging the moments of heartbreak.
Our best wishes to former student Kim Brennan (Crow ’03) as she continues to chase her Olympic rowing dream.
Ms Linda Douglas
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