Despite a temporary issue with right trochanter pain, my training was going well. So I set off one morning to cover five miles.
About a third of the way through I began to wonder – was running even fun?
I enjoy feeling fit and capable. And I was starting to develop some pride in myself for following through on my training, running farther than I ever had before. But my actual experience of running was that it was tedious. Did I care enough to keep slogging? And if I ran five miles that day, what was my reward? Just that I’d have to run even farther the next time out.
I began thinking about the process of setting goals and working toward them.
There’s supposed to be a heroic story about your life in which you set goals, work to achieve them, encounter some obstacles along the way, but ultimately experience triumph and self-esteem at the end of the story.
But the story I tell myself about my life sure doesn’t feel that way. My experience is that I typically fall short, never achieving the goals I set for myself.
At this point I was about half way through my mileage for the day.
Next I wondered why I so often feel that I fall short. Maybe I overlook too many of my legitimate accomplishments, failing to acknowledge my successes. Maybe I’m only superficially committed to my goals in the first place, unwilling to engage in the hard work to achieve them. Maybe I lack the flexibility to re-examine my goals and alter my path in response to external feedback.
I don’t really know. Maybe a combination of all of these.
I do know that I’m good at looking back at my goals and deciding that they’re not that important anyway. I can talk myself out of anything.
I also know that I love inspiring stories of people who make a commitment to achieve something deeply important and follow through.
Lately I’ve been thinking of Bryan Stevenson, a man whose deep commitment has made us all more aware of the injustices of the criminal justice system and the cruel history of lynching in this country.
Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who seems to have worked harder than any human being possibly could in order to create her unique and lasting legacy.
I love those kinds of stories.
On the other hand, though their stories are inspiring, what difference does it make unless I make use of my sense of inspiration and achieve something meaningful myself? Maybe looking to these superstars backfires, creating overly lofty expectations for myself.
Do Bryan Stevenson or Ruth Bader Ginsburg even feel good about themselves and all they’ve achieved? Or do they constantly fall short of their own internal expectations?
At the other end of the spectrum, I read a story about a guy whose goal was to attend a baseball game at every minor league stadium across the country. That’s not easy to do – there are a lot of them. But unless you can appreciate that as a highly ironic piece of performance art illustrating the stark meaninglessness of existence, it’s not really that important.
Do I even care if I run a half marathon? No one else does. It’s not truly important one way or the other.
I’m sorry to say that this self-exploration didn’t lead me to any greater insight on these issues. I haven’t built any deeper understanding of myself or my motivations. But I didn’t talk myself out of sticking with my plan. I finished my mileage for the day. So that’s something.