Valjean Clark

Knowing when you are beaten

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on what I have learned from an ongoing, chronic knee problem. This post describes how I injured my knee and has links to the posts I have written about other lessons I have learned.

When I injured my knee five years ago while skiing, an event that has forever altered my life, one aspect stands out to me: it took me several minutes to accept that I was injured and that I needed help getting down the mountain. I couldn’t accept that I was beaten.

I remember the muscles in my legs feeling fatigued, and then I took a turn awkwardly in a low stance. I felt an unfamiliar and unwelcome sensation in my knee. The next turn, my knee “gave out”, and I fell. I had heard the term “give out” before, but I didn’t fully understood it until this moment. I knew what I wanted my knee to do, but it just wouldn’t cooperate. I tried putting less weight on it, tried slowly scraping my way down the mountain on the skis, but my knee just wouldn’t hold any weight. But that didn’t stop me, I still thought I could make my way down the mountain by rolling or sliding. After a few minutes of that, I finally realized that it was over.

Years later, I found myself in a similar situation with my relationship and with my career. I was trying things that I believed would work, things I had done before, but they weren’t working anymore.

It’s hard to know when you are beaten. “Beaten” may seem too strong a word, but I can’t think of a suitable alternative. I’m talking about when you realize that the approach you have been taking is no longer working. More than that, you realize that you are out of ideas and that you don’t have the tools to resolve the situation you are in. No life hack, weird trick, or previous belief will save you. You are beaten, and you need to slow down and likely ask for help to get you unstuck.

At least for me, these progressive phases of being beaten in life have been freeing in a way I did not expect. I used to feel insufficient in most activities that I pursued. There was always someone better at programming than me, more outdoorsy than me, more fit than me, more disciplined than me. Comparing myself to people playing a different game than I am is a recipe for misery. Realizing I was beaten showed me that if I didn’t accept constraints and limitations in life, life would eventually show me the constraints.

As of the time of writing this, I cannot run, an activity I used to really enjoy. Every day I walk past runners, and I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t hurt a little whenever I see this. But in another way, it is freeing to know that I have a different set of things to choose from. There are still so many physical activities I can explore and excel at. And even before my injury, there were already pursuits I was better suited toward than others. My injury forced me to say no to some things that are just no longer physically possible for me, which has in turn helped me to say no to many more things, so that I can say a more emphatic yes to a small set of things.