A lot of things have been happening in my personal life recently that have made me think about what I've accomplished so far in my life... and how far I am from what I had ever imagined.
These deep thoughts all occurred as I was driving home from yet another great group run with the Run Like a Girl group. Last night it was hot - 83 degrees - when we gathered in front of Styles Fitness in the near West End. Before I got there I had talked myself down to running only the 3 mile route because I just didn't feel like doing the 5 in the heat. Basically, I was being a wussy whiner. But as soon as the rest of the group showed up and I was in the presence of women (and one brave guy) who are about to run the Boston Marathon, my tune changed.
I ended up running the 5 with them in the 83 degree heat - which I NEVER would have done on my own in a million years. And of course while I was hot and sweaty, it was no where near as bad as I had imagined it would be. In fact, our route ended up registering only 4.9 miles on my Garmin, so after we had stopped inside for a drink, I waved goodbye to the rest of the group and set out to get that last tenth of a mile.
When I got into my car, I felt so accomplished. And I realized that is a big part of why I have really grown to loving running so much.
Since becoming an adult, I find that I don't feel any high level of personal accomplishment anymore. As a child, teenager, and college student, I was an over-achiever, which was driven by an insane level of perfectionism. It wasn't healthy for me, but pushing myself to win - to be the best - produced amazing highs: high-school valedictorian, drum major of my high school band, countless all-star bands and ensembles and music awards, triumphant solo recitals. Of course this also produced crushing lows when I didn't accomplish what I wanted or get what I thought I deserved (National Wind Ensemble, a 4.0 in college, first chair in orchestra, a position in the President's Own Marine Band).
When I entered grad school and started working full time, my perfectionism started to mellow out. I had become jaded in a sense... I wasn't going to be what I had dreamed and no, I wasn't some brilliant, amazing genius (musically or otherwise). I'm just average, and I've grown to be fine with that. In fact, I embrace my mediocrity.
In my daily life, I don't really get much of a sense of personal achievement. In a work environment, most of the accomplishments related to my job happen because of team work, not just me. There is nothing I can point to and say "I did that." When I do the laundry, clean the house, or cook dinner, Husband thanks me, but to me it's just what I do. Part of my daily tasks... no need to say anything about it.
Then I found running.
To me, every step that I run always feels like a big accomplishment. It's something that I can keep improving at (whereas you can't really get better at grocery shopping...). There's always a new race to sign up for, a new distance to strive for, a new weather condition to conquer. At the end of every run, no matter how crappy, I am always glad that I did it.
Maybe what it comes down to is that it has given me a new sense of self-worth. It is easy to feel like you are making something of yourself when you are a student. You do assignments, you get grades, you earn awards. Eventually, you graduate. I thrived and loved that environment, especially the ease with which I could see my progress. Running has given that back to me. Every week I have a plan and as the week progresses I check off each scheduled run on my Google calendar, changing it from gray (scheduled) to purple (done!). At the end of the week, I can look back and see that I ran 20 miles. Montly totals and yearly totals add to that feeling of accomplishment.
Look, you have done something this year. Something real. Something quantitative. Doesn't it feel great?
Races are the icing on the cake. Tackling a new distance, giving myself a new challenge to strive for, makes me feel like I have real purpose and I relish plotting how I will achieve it. And when I'm done, being able to say "Wow, I just did that!" makes it all worth it.
I think that maybe it has also filled a hole in my identity. Ten years ago, I was a musician. Five years ago, I became a defunct musician... and nothing ever filled that hole. A part of me is missing... even though I will always be a musician and music will always be a big part of my life, it's sadly just not the part of me that brings me the biggest feelings of self-worth anymore.
Now, I look to running to fill the hole that my failed dream of being a professional musician left. I am a runner.
And it feels good.