The Unspoken Stages of Barrel Racing
I’m sure by now you’re well aware of the flow of barrel racing. You know you will have really good seasons and really bad ones. You may even question if you’re cut out for this life, but then you just write it off because you still have some gas left in your dream tank.
These stages we are all familiar with. We almost expect them. We trust the process. But this blog post is not about those stages.
I want to address the periods where you truly feel burnt out, where you feel called to do something else, to step back, or even when you’re forced to do something else. More importantly, this is for the racers who think they will never give it up.
The "What Now" Stage
We train our whole life to revolve around a moment and no one prepares us for after the 15 minutes of fame and glory. Relationships are sacrificed, finances strained, and long nights spent on the road. You stay up late with the horses when they’re sick, and miss family events, just to get to another rodeo. Searching for the chance to prove to ourselves we have become something great.
We place so much pressure on winning a “gold buckle” that sometimes we sacrifice who we are for it. Now, I’m all for the grind, don’t get me wrong, and I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for the world. What I’m addressing, is the part no one is talking about. The part after the lights go out in the arena.
The “What Now” stage.
You see, up until that moment of glory, we know who we are, we have purpose and something to fight for. Our life has direction, but when the 15 minutes are up, who are you?
Many professional athletes or career professionals find themselves lost after their big moments. Training for the performance is one thing, but what happens when your career suddenly ends? Careers end for many different reasons, some forced to retire, some have completed everything they needed to, but no one truly prepares them for the empty void they feel when their whole life takes a 180.
I can tell you that for me, I felt called to walk away, and when I did, I had no idea what to do with myself. I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t mentally ill, I was simply lost. The barrel racing chapter in my life was over. Except, I had envisioned that part of my life to be my entire life. I didn’t realize it was just a chapter, I didn’t realize it was one small part of the many things I was destined to achieve. I now found myself stuck. Who was I? What do I do now? Where do I channel all this energy that I had? Where were my friends?
Could I even call myself a Barrel Racer?
I had every reason to be happy, but there was always something missing. I didn’t feel deeply connected to anything, I felt like I didn’t have a purpose. More importantly, deep down a part of me felt like I had failed because I had taken a different course than what I had planned. Could I really call myself a barrel racer if I was no longer barrel racing? Was I really successful if I didn’t go all the way? Did that part of my life mean anything at all? Before, I could say I was a barrel racer, but who was I now? I started to realize being a barrel racer was a part of my life but it wasn’t who I was. It was a small chapter and I was shocked that there was more to the story.
A Warning for the Dreamers
“Take it as a blessing that you have found something in life that brings you so much passion and purpose because some people go their whole life not ever coming close to such things. “
What I want to warn you about is to be careful where you place your identity.
Dreams are necessary. We need dreams so big you feel like landing on the moon would be easier. They help us push past limits, they teach us about faith and perseverance. They show us how to believe in ourselves. But that’s just it, dreams are designed to help you discover yourself, but dreams have seasons too.
I’m not saying that wanting to be the best is a bad thing. I’m not saying chasing a Gold Buckle is wrong. I’m saying, don’t place your whole identity on a fleeting moment. Because the thing with moments is they come and they go. When you attach your identity to a title, to a prize, to the success of winning a rodeo series, and that moment passes, you will find yourself asking “What Now”. You will outgrow your title, and your prize will collect dust.
It was about Olympians speaking out on what I call the “what now” stage of their careers and how it’s a huge issue no one is talking about. The first part of the documentary really hit home for me and I only wish I would have seen this when I was trying to pursue a rodeo career. It would have made me realize the reality of professional sports and that the pressure I was placing on myself needed to be re-evaluated. If you haven’t seen it then go watch it ASAP!
I’m writing this blog post because how many cowboys and cowgirls are experiencing this? We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best in rodeo, do we know how to stand alone without it? Do we realize that it is not the end all be all?
My Message To You
You need to know who you are outside of Rodeo. Prioritize your relationships, your health, your well-being, and your horse’s health, just as much as you prioritize winning that gold buckle. Define what success looks like for yourself and not place success on winning a buckle but more on leaving a legacy. Winning a gold buckle is just a small step in that legacy. It’s just a chapter in your life.
Success is going to look different for everyone and we all are going through different stages of it. Give yourself permission to move on, give yourself permission to start again. Recognize it’s just as important to know this dream is one of many amazing moments in your life. Good or bad, it is guaranteed to pass. What you have control over; your common denominator needs to be your confidence in yourself no matter the stage in your journey. Know that every stage you’re going through is a part of a greater plan. Where before you may have been so focused on one small section of it.
In doing so, I hope you recognize you will always have a purpose in your life even if your goals have shifted. When you place your identity on your values and higher-self, you will not be shaken or defeated. You will coast through and embrace every chapter of your life with open arms. Because the truth is, not one moment can capture your true worth. You are a series of beautiful, powerful moments. You can not simply be defined. You are forever growing, forever changing, and forever priceless. No amount of Gold can ever define that.