Hey, you. Yeah, you. You’re awesome. You’re a badass. As Cardi B said, you’re a certified freak, seven days a week. You aren’t just a rockstar, you are a rap-star and a country-star too, all wrapped up into one boss package. And letting yourself embrace the swag you deserve just by being you might be the most important thing in your athletic future.
Because true potential in anything is 10 layers beneath the surface, covered by dirt and rocks and sh*t. Each layer is there ready to confirm that we are not enough. Crappy race, severe injury, global pandemic, work stress, health downturn, non-linear fitness loss, haters with bad intentions and worse breath. Every athlete that glimpses what they are capable of has to dig down through all those layers to find the treasure buried under what seems like the bedrock.
What keeps them digging?
Maybe it’s insecurity goop, the other topping option beside swagsauce. That can work for sure. Many athletes have been driven by an overriding feeling of conditional self-acceptance. They run from internal voices calling them a name that rhymes with “Hoosier,” toward salvation given by big training weeks or race achievements or social-media followings. Hopefully they can recalibrate that internal voice, or there’s a good chance they’ll do that training or win that race or become Instagram influencers (or write a bestselling novel or get rich) only to find it’s still screaming at them, maybe even a bit louder, waiting to fill every quiet moment.
Hey, voice, listen up. Hoosier daddy? Or hoosier mommy or hoosier non-binary person or hoosier anything else all-caps BOSS?
Here, “swag” is just a word that I have seen help athletes destigmatize the search for unapologetic self-acceptance and celebration of the process in an uncertain world. Substitute in any term that helps you reach that place where it’s acceptable to say you are enough just the way you are.
And swag (or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t come from outcomes. It’s rarely given by external validation. Swag usually requires internal work that helps an athlete say they are a boss and mean it (at least some of the time). That internal work may be more natural for some people. For most athletes, though, the internal work it takes to embrace yourself, kickass warts and all, is not natural in the slightest.
For most athletes, though, the internal work it takes to embrace yourself, kickass warts and all, is not natural in the slightest.
The brain often wants to play those self-defeating tricks, cutting us down every chance it gets, confirming the haters’ BS, stopping our progress in its tracks. That’s why mental-health journeys almost always require support systems, from family and friends to therapy and/or medication. And through long-term internal work, maybe there is a future where your brain lets you say “I am a boss” or “I am enough” or maybe just “I am not sucky all the time” and fully mean it. Wherever you get to, swag is not given, and I don’t think it’s earned either. Swag is taken, with swagtastic therapy and/or support, swaggerifically reinforced by your swag crew.
That is beyond what this little article is about, though. The step I am urging is simpler. If you struggle with celebrating yourself, start by letting yourself acknowledge that embracing a bit more swag is a valid goal in a society that often wants us to pursue a myth of effortless perfection.
Time to be more serious for a second.
This article is filled with tongue-in-cheek word choices because this idea is so uncomfortable to so many people. I know my brain constantly wants to roundhouse kick my self-love right in the face. So do a few internet comments and some particularly mean cats. And through coaching, I have gotten a window into the imaginative ways brains can try to cut people down. I have seen athletes win the biggest races in the world, while being the kindest and most wonderful humans, only to wake up the next week despising themselves more than ever. Haters make it all worse. That problem is often magnified for women athletes and BIPOC athletes that contend with implicit and explicit societal and individual discrimination.
It’s all hard. It’s so so hard. It can feel like a weight vest that adds resistance to everything, from hill intervals to getting out of bed in the morning. No matter where you are on your journey, just know there are lots of people right there with you. You are enough and you are loved, just the way you are, as an athlete and human and everything else. Sometimes that may be really tough to see in the moment, and that’s OK too.
End serious interlude.
Ohhhhhhh crap … do you hear that? Chugga, chugga, chugga, CHOO CHOO! That’s the swag train coming back into the station. And it’s bringing enough swag for everyone. Now imagine Oprah as the conductor, saying over the loudspeaker to look under your seat. Because you get swag! And you get swag! You all get swag!
There is unlimited swag to go around, because everything we do on Earth is impermanent, dust in a celestial wind blowing with hurricane-force power. We can’t escape that universal narrative of life and death. But through lots of internal work and lifting each other up, while also fighting with everything we have against societal injustice like racism and sexism, maybe it’s possible to move the needle just slightly on that personal and community narrative.
The meaning of this semi-coherent brain dropping is … nope. Not playing that game this time, brain.
The meaning of this amazing, ambitious article is just to give you permission to want to turn your swag-meter up a notch, and to help people you know turn their notches up too, and to accept it with love when you see people showing swag in life.
The meaning of this amazing, ambitious article is just to give you permission to want to turn your swag-meter up a notch, and to help people you know turn their notches up too, and to accept it with love when you see people showing swag in life. You don’t need to turn the notches to 10, just try to see what happens if you can move them millimeters to start.
Maybe it does nothing. I am not a mental-health professional and please talk to a therapist and/or psychologist about your feelings.
Or … maybe it still does nothing … BUT WITH SWAG.
Because that’s the existential crisis we’re all facing. Our brains can often have this shared understanding that we’re not doing much of anything in the big scheme of it all, especially when it comes to things like running or work, especially when playing the comparison game to other people. Why do I care so much? Why do I do this? Why do I care about anything as much as I do?
Bad workout. Is this who I am as an athlete?
Loss of consistency. Am I just not worthy?
Failure in all the creative ways humans can fail. That’s me forever, I guess?
And that’s when you can reach into your swag bag for an answer. Why run and race and celebrate things that may not have that much meaning at all? Because we are bosses. And bosses do epic sh*t, like run races or go to therapy or have the courage to keep moving forward through failure in the first place.
Humility is cool, but you know what is cooler? Lifting yourself up and lifting others up every chance you get, like the bosses you all are.
I think giving ourselves permission to celebrate ourselves is what it takes to fully explore long-term athletic potential and fulfillment at the same time. Humility is cool, but you know what is cooler? Lifting yourself up and lifting others up every chance you get, like the bosses you all are.
Just because. Just because you are you, living and running with badass swag into that celestial wind.
David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts a weekly, 30-minute podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.