I read this article from The American Conservative during my morning coffee time, and reflecting on it has given me more thoughts than I can process in the time it takes to consume one cup before it gets cold (first world problems). These are my initial thoughts and might even be knee-jerk reactions. Please forgive my perspective of these shortcomings.
I feel the weight of this article for several reasons: I am a millennial; and though I have no desire (right now) to purchase a home, whether urban or suburban, I definitely felt (and still feel) pressure to “do something great” after I graduated from college. How much of that pressure was cultural or internal, I don’t know; the line is too blurry, and I’m too close to have an objective view.
While I don’t think my potential for doing something “great” is gone, I do think my life’s circumstances have played a large part in my doing or not doing a great many things these last eight years. Instead of traveling the world or immersing myself in some rigorous/rewarding graduate and post-grad work, I worked minimum wage, entry-level jobs for which I was severely over qualified for the first five years, when I wasn’t unemployed, of course. I used these minimum wages (not livable wages, I might add) to build the best possible foundation I possibly could while also supporting several family members for seven of these eight years.
My life is probably not “great” by comparison with most American standards. I have very little in the way of material possessions or financial security, and considering the payoff of my “investments” into close friends and family members—if there even exists a way to measure it—I’ve been on the raw end of the deal too frequently to count those as wise decisions as a whole. But I’ve never really had a lot, so I don’t always know I’m lacking of something until I notice the comparison or realize I’m limited by deficiency. In this way, ignorance really is bliss.
Putting aside the apparently millennial-centric perceptions of “greatness,” I must admit I am amazed at and grateful for the life I have. With the perspective of having lived in poverty, both actual and relative, I always dreamed of having a stable life—one without worry for bills or meeting basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. As a child, I dreamed of being able to do something, anything, that would give me such stability (e.g. working in a bank, being a librarian, writing for a newspaper, making music, nothing particularly “great,” etc.). For the college freshman through college junior versions of me, being a high school math teacher was the dream I defined and pursued. For a small portion of my life and even still in reveries, being a college professor has also been the dream. Now, more realistic but less clearly defined, my dream is to find the compromise between doing what I love—writing about life—and living it, free of the anxieties that too often plague the impoverished mind.
Does my current dream meet the definitions of greatness? Probably not, but then I ask myself if I’m even on the same grading curve as the rest of my birth cohort because I started off life with absolutely nothing in the way of material or social support. Do I get a curve? And if I do get one, do I want one; will I take a curve? Will my pride allow me to accept grace, should it be offered? I have no idea; I have a LOT of pride and ambition—typical of come-uppers.
I’ll be 30 this summer, and while I don’t own a house, I have a place to call home with someone who thinks the world of me. I don’t have children or family beyond my beloved; but I do belong to a great community of people, and that can be the same thing if we all work at it. I don’t have any letters or credentials behind my name; and at one point that challenged my sense of self worth (real-life Hermione Grainger anyone?). Right now in this moment, though, I feel free in saying it doesn’t anymore; and I think that’s positive growth.
Instead of considering what I don’t have and how I’ve come to terms with it, consider what I’ve done with my life in spite of unavoidable circumstances. I’ve survived an abusive childhood with relative sanity and without a drug problem or jail time. (People not acquainted with sociology may not realize how huge that is. Please, take my word for it; it’s a big achievement.) I’ve received a college education and transitioned from living far below the poverty line to just over it. I’ve found healthy ways to manage my anxiety and depression (again, relative sanity). I’ve become a person not wholly afraid of engaging with the world—of choosing to make myself vulnerable to people, even when I am afraid and when it hurts because I’m wrong or just foolish. And in all of this, I can sense both the limitations and the potential greatness of humanity—mine and the collective as well as mine as part of the collective.
I do still feel pressure from American culture and a large part of that is directly related to sociological factors (e.g., birth cohort, socioeconomic status, education, etc.). And most of my anxieties about life stem from past experiences and where they’ve put me in life presently. But when I don’t compare myself to others, most of these anxieties fall away. So, what is “greatness” when you drop comparisons? I think my life is pretty great; and I’m grateful for it. I’ll go with that.
Are you a millennial? Do you feel pressure to do “great” things with your life? What are these “great things?” Does that pressure make you want to live in an urban area or in a suburban area? Are you even thinking of things like this? Would you rather be discussing the Real Housewives of wherever? If so, what does THAT say about our generation and our culture?
Here’s a fabulous song about the possibility of greatness as well as the reference for this post’s title. If you decide to give up the rat race to greatness, the least you could do is listen to great music.
For new readers, I’m living in the middle of a lifestyle change, and I’ve been in it for at least the last two years. Reading through my posts will hopefully paint that picture for you, so please check out my older posts.
If you want to read more about making lifestyle changes that LAST, please check out Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. He’s been a great source of inspiration to me.
Here are links in chronological order for what I consider to be the most relevant posts to changing my life. Hopefully this collection of posts serves as proof from a person living in the midst of it that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. There will be good and bad days. Sometimes good and bad happens on the same day. The good and bad, the arduous and easy: it’s all worth the work it takes; and it takes everything you have.
#3) …And Exhale…
#4) Cosmic Love
#11) A Life of Practice
#12) Life in Last Place
#13) My Bucket List
#14) I CAN Do This!
#19) Things Fall Apart
#21) Now Testify
I began running last spring, but I was doing it on my own and suffering through the stupidity of wearing worn shoes and consequentially, shin splints. After wising up and getting new shoes in November, I still continued on my own, with less injury. I took time off in December for the busiest holiday season I’ve had in my adult life. So, I didn’t start training with a running coach until this February.
To my great surprise, my coach began with telling me to be patient. Considering that we’d only just met and that he clearly didn’t know how impatient I am, I cut him some slack and didn’t protest—first impressions and all that. He was direct about how long it could take to get me to a base-level of fitness. Before becoming a yogi, that kind of honesty in relation to my physical fitness and ability would have thrown me into a tailspin full of negative self talk and food restriction as punishment. Armed with a yogi’s approach to exploring new physical challenges, I accepted what my coach was telling me without judging myself, and I committed to our training plan 100%.
Sticking to the plan has conditioned my body to be a better runner. I take shorter walking breaks, and when I walk, it’s more brisk than before. I run farther than I’ve ever run before, too. Physically, I know the plan is working. Moreover, the plan is working on a mental level; and I think it’s made me more patient. The daily commitment to this plan is an active exercise in developing patience. Every day I do my pushups and core work; every day I work on strengthening my legs and improving my breathing; and every day I am slowly working toward a goal that is so far off in the distance that I can barely fathom it.
With each new two-week plan my coach develops for me, he almost always sends words of encouragement as well as caution to remain patient. Again, in the beginning, this really threw me off. My initial perspective was that runners are not supposed to be patient; the goal is to be first. People who are comfortable with waiting around typically are not also motivated to necessarily improve or be competitive. But throughout this process I’m learning that people who are motivated to improve are not necessarily competitive with others. Self competition and self improvement are quite enough for me at this stage of running and fitness. Also, this improvement takes time and daily work, thus patience to stay committed and do the work in spite of being so far removed from “peak” performance that I don’t even have a goal for it.
Room for Improvement
As part of my half marathon race plan, my coach reminded me to be patient—to not let the emotional high of the race experience undo my training. He set time goals for each mile that were challenging but still consistent with my previous long run performance. I did consciously try to stay within those goals, but I’ll admit I definitely got caught up in the adrenaline rush of race day, evident in how fast I ran my first three miles. Looking back on that experience, I see how I am developing the daily patience, but that I still need to work on exercising that patience when it counts on race day.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am focusing on shorter distances and increasing speed over the summer. As part of that goal, I will participate in several 5Ks and 10Ks this summer. The distance may be shorter, and the speed may be picking up, but this requires patience all the same. I ran the first of these 5Ks on April 27th, and as with my other race, my coach sent me a race plan with time goals for each mile split. He also encouraged me to stick to these goals and not let the race day high push me harder or faster than I needed.
This race was only three weeks after my half marathon, so maybe I hadn’t developed adequate stores of patience in that time because I blew our set time goals out of the water. First, maybe this is a good thing. There’s nothing quite like having a goal and consistently running under it throughout an event; it feels amazing. Second and on the flip side, maybe this is how I injured myself.
I finished my first 5K of the summer about two minutes under my goal time, and both my coach and I were proud of my performance. I walked to cool down, stretched, and ate as all runners concerned with post-run recovery do. I went home and spent some quality time with my foam roller and hot shower. Then I napped. When I woke, I felt stiff—not uncommon the evening of a morning race. Ready for a meal, I moved to get out of bed and walk toward my kitchen. My body did not cooperate in the least. Getting out of bed was difficult; and walking was almost impossible as pain radiated from my right hip and groin. Clearly, I’d pushed myself too hard that morning. By that evening when it was hard and uncomfortable to stand, sit, or lie down, I was concerned. I took Aleve and alternated ice and heat as best as I could on my hip (a seriously hard place to reach with ice packs and a heating pad).
Last Sunday, I couldn’t walk without excruciating pain, and I was grateful that it was a rest day. Monday marked a return to my training plan, and with my first steps on the treadmill, I knew running just wasn’t going to happen. I did my mileage on the elliptical instead, and I made sure to let my coach know that I’d deviated from our plan. Tuesday I made an appointment with the Physical Therapist my coach suggested, but to do that, I also had to make an appointment with my primary care doctor. I took the week off from running and from elliptical work, and I just focused on my daily workout of pushups and core work. I stretched and did easy yoga as much as possible, but it seemed nothing was touching the pain in my hip.
I saw my doctor on Friday, and after a brief physical examination, he concluded that it was a hip flexor injury, and he sent me for an x-ray to make sure my hip joint was okay. The x-ray showed signs of “arthritic changing,” which could mean anything from a slight deterioration in cartilage or inflammation to actual arthritis. I’m not entirely sure what the x-ray results mean, but I’ve been advised to give my anti-inflammatory and PT two weeks before returning to the doctor. If things get better, great. If not, then he wants me to get an MRI. We’ll see how things progress.
Unexpected Side Effects
As much as I appreciated the week off from running after my half marathon, I hated last week away from running. I think I was so exhausted during the half-marathon recovery week that the rest was welcome. But last week I was not exhausted. I had only run a 5K. I should have been feeling perfectly normal on Sunday, but I wasn’t. I became increasingly more restless as the week progressed. I couldn’t sleep well, and I woke up several nights with panic attacks and lingering anxiety through the day.
I never thought I’d be one of “those people” who rely on running for anxiety management. Mindful breathing and yoga were my go-to methods, but with the absence from running, they barely seemed to touch my anxiety. I never thought I’d be a person who runs several times a week, either. But now I am, and my body (with all its anxiety) has come to depend on running as an outlet. It was on reflection of these new developments that I realized just how I had become more patient as well as how I need to continue working on it. And now with an injured right hip, I’m getting a full dosage of forced patience.
Life on the Injured List
I started physical therapy yesterday. I’m again grateful for being a yogi throughout this process because I think it gives me the perspective to be very clear when it comes to things going on in my body (Thanks, JN). I gave specific examples of what causes my pain, where it’s painful, and what I’ve been doing to alleviate and compensate for it. For now, I’m taking a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory and will be in physical therapy three times a week. I’m doing my baby exercises in addition to my daily pushups, core work, and elliptical for cardio. I’m biding my time until I can run again. I won’t be running in the 5K this weekend and likely won’t be running in the 10K on the 25th. I’m not even looking beyond the end of this month because I’ve learned that too many things can change in that much time. Maybe I’ll be ready to bounce back stronger than ever by the end of this month. Maybe it will take longer than that; to stay positive, though, I’m trying not to think about that possibility (avoidance is sometimes a useful coping mechanism).
Life on the injured list is depressing and stressful. Whether it’s asthma, ovarian cysts, my weight, or now an injured hip flexor & hip joint, it seems like my body is my greatest adversary when it comes to adopting a healthier, more active lifestyle. Several times in the last week I’ve fallen into the trap of asking why things like this happen to me, and that’s about the most unhelpful thing I could be doing. It doesn’t matter why my body has these challenges or limitations. And finding an answer wouldn’t be helpful either. If I allow myself even the smallest particle of thought that my body may just be designed to be overweight, flabby, and sedentary, then I risk abandoning my current pursuit of an active life. I know it’s also not helpful to have such a rigid perspective. I’m aware that just because I can’t run right now doesn’t mean that I am risking a slip into inactivity. But just as alcoholics and drug abusers require a sense of rigidity to keep them sober, I fear that being too accepting of my limitations will lead to falling off the wagon of my healthy lifestyle. So I acknowledge my obstacles, and I acknowledge that their presence means I need to learn ways around them. But I will not accept that I am made to be an immovable object.
I’ve also questioned whether running is a realistic way for me to be active. As I am queen of unrealistic expectations and stubborn to a fault, I’ve had to seriously consider if what I am doing is right for me. The yogi in me tells me it’s wrong to continue doing something that hurts me. Maybe I should do rowing or pick up cycling? Maybe I need to take an adult swim class at the local Y for no impact cardio? I might try those things, but I’m not giving up on running yet. My physical therapist and running coach both know that I want to return to running, and they’re both committed to making that happen. Now it’s time for me to be both patient and committed to this recovery plan so I can return to running.
Thank YOU for being patient in waiting for this post. It’s been a long time in the making, and as much as I wanted to post this soon after my half marathon, I think the additional time has given me a better perspective on patience and especially of envisioning myself as person with more patience than I thought. Thanks also for reading, as always.
Have you ever come back from an injury? What was that like?
In my last post, I briefly alluded to freaking out in the week preceding my first half marathon. As I mentioned, I wasn’t super excited because I was nervous about the mileage increase; but my freak out was mostly in reaction to knowing my beloved had organized an “entourage” to follow me along my race route and to celebrate after the race. I had just returned to Facebook after my Lenten hiatus to see that more people had committed to being there than I ever imagined. All I could think was that these people, some old friends and some new friends, were going to stand in the heat (and possible rain) for several hours just to watch me pass by them for a moment.
You see, I’m about the least patient person that I know, and I felt bad asking anyone other than my own husband to endure waiting around for me in the back of the pack. If I were a better runner, maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad; but I knew better than anyone else how long it would take. Because I hadn’t actually run the complete route before the race, I couldn’t exactly gauge when I’d be at certain checkpoints. I estimated based on my long-run performance, but running 13 miles is an unpredictable beast when the farthest you’ve ever run is 9 miles. So how could I really ask people to get up early on a Sunday and stand around for hours? Truthfully, I would never do that because I’m so impatient; I could never see myself doing something like that. (Maybe that makes me a bad friend? Maybe I need to learn how to be a good friend?) The only person I actually expected to be there was my husband, and that was only because the race was on a day he was off from work.
A Little Help from My Friends
Of course anyone’s first half marathon is a big deal, and most people would expect it to be a cause for celebration. I am not most people. I rarely ever ask for help. I never think anyone else I know would remotely care that I’m running in any race. I figure they’ve got better things to do, things that are more important to them. I figure the only people who really care about my running are other runners.
All of those assumptions might be true. But what I didn’t consider was that, though the people who showed up might not give a rat’s ass about running, they care about me. They wanted to support me because that’s what friends do. When I couldn’t get excited about it for myself, they got excited about it for me. Slowly and with my husband’s insistence, I came around to the concept that I have people in my life. I have people who are willing to get up early on a Sunday, people who are willing to stand around for hours, even in the heat and possible rain.
In a moment of bravery, I sent an email to my church. I let them know I didn’t want to speak up about it considering it was Palm Sunday and that Easter was coming, but that I could really use some encouragement for this event. And in response, as I was leaving church the week prior to the race, I was overwhelmed with love and encouragement from these people. My people.
That same week, my husband met with his friends from work to make signs. People I’ve only met a few times, people I hardly even know were staying up late making signs for my race. Of course I couldn’t be there; I was training. And still they did it. Some of them showed up too, even though they had sick babies at home, even though they never get up early on Sundays.
So this post is a very honorable mention and thank you for the people who thought of me, wrote to me, spoke words of encouragement to me, made signs, showed up, sent texts, and celebrated with me. This post is for every spectator who waits for the runners at the back of the pack. This post is for the people in my life. Thank you so much.