Have you ever pushed yourself to do something that everyone around you said couldn’t be done?
I don’t mean eating an entire pizza in one sitting or binging the new season of your favorite Netflix show in one day. I’m talking about pushing your body and mind to the max.
We, as humans, tend to have a habit of placing limits on ourselves. We see an opportunity to do something new that intimidates us and we think, “Oh no. I could never do something that intense or unfamiliar.” I know, I fall victim to this train of thought all too frequently. Taking on a new challenge is a scary thing to do, but perhaps we should use these challenges as a chance to find out what we are truly capable of. After all, how can you really know you can’t do something until you try?
My guest today is an amazing woman who has made a career out of pushing her boundaries. Her resume is filled with incredible milestones that include being the youngest person to row across the Atlantic Ocean and setting the record for most consecutive days running in an ultramarathon. Please welcome to The School of Greatness, the inspiring Katie Spotz!
Katie Spotz is an American adventurer with a long list of accomplishments, which include five Ironman triathlons, running 100 miles nonstop, cycling across the USA twice, a 325-mile river swim, running across deserts, and a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. Her 70 days at sea set a world record for the youngest ever solo ocean rower and the first American to row solo from Africa to South America.
Katie’s story has been featured on CBS Morning Show, CBS Evening News, World News with Diane Sawyer, Anderson Cooper 360, New York Times, NPR, and PBS NewsHour. Throughout her adventures, Katie has also worked on the deeper mission to raise money for safe drinking water projects around the world. She has been a part of 95 projects across 14 countries, which have given more than 43,000 people access to clean drinking water.
You might think that someone who has accomplished such incredible feats was running ultramarathons in grade school, but that is not the case for Katie. In fact, she credits her high school gym class as being the thing that ignited her passion for pushing herself to her limits.
Katie had to take a gym credit to receive her high school diploma, so she signed up for the easiest class she could — just walking around the track for the entire class period. One day, Katie was bored out of her mind and began to wonder if she could run an entire mile without stopping. She’d never done it before, so it wasn’t long before her curiosity began to take over.
Katie was also no stranger to team sports as she had been an athlete throughout her school years, but she claims something was missing when she played sports. As it turns out, the thing that was missing was setting challenges for herself.
“It wasn’t this immediate thing, but it was this moment where redefining what’s possible happened. Even when people say, oh, only one mile — all it takes is one mile to redefine this conversation we have with ourselves, which is …that I can and can’t do things. In my mind, I couldn’t do that. So knowing that I could do something — I never thought I could — it started [as] this little thing. So one turned into two, two turned into three, and that place was really where all the confidence to take on running and cycling came from.” – Katie Spotz
Of all the places for this passion to begin, it seems perfectly ironic that it sprouted from a reluctantly-joined high school gym class. It seems like oftentimes the situations in which we are least excited to participate lead us to where we’re supposed to be. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons by forcing myself to do things I thought I would hate. At the end of the day, life is about discovering all the incredible things you are capable of doing!
Katie also places value on the motivation that comes with overcoming challenges and limits you have placed on yourself:
“I think what happens a lot when attempting bigger challenges is we expect that we need to be motivated. I learned very quickly that you don’t actually need motivation. What you need is to begin and the motivation happens like a late friend that’s coming to the party. I’ve run many marathons and ultramarathons, but I’ve never felt motivated at first — and you don’t need to. Endurance has definitely shown me that just because you think you can’t do something doesn’t mean you’re right. It has been a really great platform to be able to explore possibility.” – Katie Spotz
I love how Katie describes motivation here, and I have to agree with her. You can’t just force yourself to be motivated. You must begin the process and let the motivation catch up to you.
Fear is something Katie has come to know very well. You don’t row across the Atlantic Ocean alone over the span of 70 days without any fear at all no matter who you are. Even the most experienced seamen would shake in their boots at the prospect of taking on the Atlantic Ocean without any kind of support or help.
I asked Katie how she overcame this intense fear and pushed herself to achieve her goal of becoming the youngest person to row across the Atlantic, and she had some awesome insights to share.
“There is this saying of facing your fears and, for me, I see it more as choosing your fears because you really can’t outrun your fears. Sometimes it seems like the easier answer is to quit, to give up, to not continue on. Sometimes that is even the easier thing at first. It may take days or weeks or months, maybe years or your deathbed, but this is the moment where it’s the fear of regret. So we have the fear of failure and the fear of regret.” -Katie Spotz
Fear is an important and valuable emotion for us humans to have. Fear protects us and gives us perspective when we may not be keeping our well-being at the forefront of our minds. However, Katie is making an important distinction between these two types of fear we may feel when pushing ourselves to our limit.
I love how Katie explains we can’t outrun our fears — this is so true. We love to ignore or push away the things that scare us because fear is not a pleasant emotion to experience. There are benefits to fear, however, and it is exactly this emotion that we must use to propel ourselves forward and beyond the limits we place on ourselves rather than remain stagnant due to the fear of failure.
“So I really looked at fear and said, what one do I wanna choose? Do I want to choose the fear of failure or the fear of regret? With facing the fear of failure you get that discomfort, but you also get the reward of doing hard things.” – Katie Spotz
Wow. By reframing our fears this way, we can take control of our fears instead of letting them take control of us. Katie doesn’t allow fear to take any control over her life. She uses it to push herself even further — she even said she prefers to put herself in situations where she feels like failure is not an option.
While she was at sea rowing across the Atlantic, she only had a satellite phone to call for help in the event of an emergency. Katie says if she had brought along a follow boat for safety, she might have quit before the 70 days were up.
It hasn’t all been shining success and record-breaking for Katie, however.
In fact, she told me that after breaking the world record for rowing across the Atlantic, she lost her purpose. Katie mentioned that though she accomplished her goal, she lost sight of her reason for jumping out of bed each morning. This purpose was found once again, she claims, through faith.
“The only place that I’ve been able to find that rest from finding my identity and my worth and achievement is faith. I started to have a relationship with God as a Christian, and that has shifted everything for me as an athlete. It’s really hard to enjoy something if you think your worth depends on it because it’s like — what if you lose? So it’s given me a lot of freedom from really needing self-confidence because I have confidence in God.” -Katie Spotz
The biggest challenge Katie has had to overcome with her own mindset was the fear of failure. Everyone shares this fear, and it’s not unique to you if you are experiencing it. No matter what gives you comfort, always remember that failure is never indicative of self-worth. We must fail in life so that we can learn how to do better on our next try.
You are enough, and you are not your mistakes.
I think we can all take a page out of Katie’s book and apply her story to our own lives. Sure, we may not be preparing to solo row across the entire Atlantic Ocean, but we can learn to use our fears to achieve our goals.
Guys, there was so much more that we talked about in this episode! I simply couldn’t fit into this post. If you want to hear more of Katie’s incredible and inspiring stories, check out her website and follow her on social media! Listen to the full episode here and as always, if you liked it tag me @lewishowes and let me know what your favorite parts were!
Thanks for tuning in!