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How Knee Surgery Helped Me Learn The Truth About Confidence

Life has a way of, well, sucking sometimes. When it does, where does your confidence come from?

Runner kneeling at the starting line for a race
James Crawford

James Crawford

James Crawford has over a decade of experience building brands, hosts multiple online shows, and is currently training for a return to jiujitsu competition.

I've spent most of 2017 with one leg.

Well... kind of. Back in February, I tore my ACL at an indoor trampoline park, resulting in surgery and nearly a year of struggle. Looking back, I don't know why I waited so long to go to the doctor, or why I chose to be so careless in the first place. Throughout the process of healing, the pain and inconvenience weren’t even the worse parts. It was coming to terms with the fact that my confidence is deeply tied to my ability to express bodily energy.

At every important crossroads in my life, I've used intense exercise to help me make decisions, push beyond adversity, and grow as a person. Just before the injury, I had stepped out on my career to take my freelancing business deeper. Knowing the unique struggles this would present, I was fully committed to using the energy gained from focused exercise to propel me forward. My knee had other plans.

Self-Deception and Withdrawal

To make matters worse, I didn't acknowledge it as a big deal, letting the injury consume much of my spring and summer before finally having it looked at. Surgery came a couple months later, followed by a rather quick recovery. At least to the point where I can walk now.

So how did this affect my new venture into working for myself?

Firstly, I wasn't able to approach my work with as much clarity and presence. There is something about the morning euphoria of a run that elevates the experiences of the day. This was gone, replaced with clumsy, half-hearted attempts to workout without putting weight on my leg.

It also made me more insular, choosing to work from home instead of getting out and doing what I love: public speaking. With this hermit-like approach, I found myself scrambling for opportunity instead of letting it come to me.

The Art of Play

We all have that thing, right? You know, the hobby or practice that you MUST have to relieve aggression, let off steam, or go to for community and connection. For me, it's jiujitsu. The art of flow, play, and overcoming adversity has been the bedrock of my confidence and happiness for a long time.

It makes sense to spend time understanding what that is for you. On the surface, it appears that confidence is a natural quality. While some may be more inclined to have a natural state of bravado, the truth is that confidence is actually cultivated. It's a skill, like anything else. When we've moved too far from the source of our confidence, we begin to stumble down a road of self-criticism that only serves to make us feel less empowered in our day-to-day choices.

Knowing that I needed intense exercise to feel confident, I decided to examine what life looked like for me when I wasn't feeling that way. It didn't take me long to figure out that I want no part of an unconfident life. It breeds jealousy, contempt, regret, and all sorts of disgusting emotions that are destructive to a fulfilling life.

Overcoming My False Beliefs

With this knowledge, I began to realize much of the story I had been telling myself about my limitations were not true. I could put some weight on my leg. I could do upper body workouts. I could relax in the sauna. I could have sex. These were all physical expressions of my body that brought me joy and confidence. So I began slowly, putting more and more of these things into practice every day, until I felt a resurgence of the deeper part of me that I knew was there.

It seems that we work on momentum. Each day, either sliding closer to a lesser version of ourselves, or elevating ourselves to the highest version. This momentum is heavily fueled by confidence. This is the greatest lesson I learned from this experience.

Adversity always has a purpose. It's just up to us to decide what it is.

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