Life is tough right now for us human beings. From sexual misconduct to politics to threats between leaders of nations, seems like we can’t wake up in the morning and not hear about something that, if allowed, can ruin the day.
There are various sayings that float around cyberspace now and then. They’re all variations on the same theme about “walking away from anything that gives you bad vibes” or “giving up the things that weigh you down so you can fly.”
I call bullshit.
Running sucks, sometimes life does too…and that’s okay
At the beginning of this year I started running. I’ve never been particularly athletic and I’m not a team sports kind of guy. But I needed to do something because I was sorely out of shape. Running was something that required little equipment and I could do it alone. Perfect. But I found out something about running. It sucks.
That first day I ran, I couldn’t run more than 60 seconds at a time without being on the verge of coughing up a lung. I remember that first run. It was the first day of 2017 and it took me twenty minutes to run just under one and a half miles. Believe me, there were several times since that day I wanted to give up.
None of us likes it when life is difficult. I would worry about someone who delights in hearing about the latest person to be called out on inappropriate behavior or finding out a childhood hero is now in jail. If someone said they enjoyed “getting into it” with someone over politics to the point the relationship ended, I would think that person is probably not someone I want to hang out with over the holidays. But the answer isn’t avoidance.
About rainbows and bunny rabbits
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my buddy Martin when we were in college. He used to talk about how some people wanted life to be “rainbows and bunny rabbits” all of the time, but life just ain’t that way. I’ve never forgotten that phrase: “rainbows and bunny rabbits.”
No one enjoys bad news or difficult people or hard conversations. But I also don’t believe anyone learns how to function as an adult by cutting out all the things that can bring us down. The best option is to learn how to respond to the challenges of life, not insulate ourselves from them. But that can be a challenge when we’re seemingly bombarded with difficult news on the daily. It can leave us feeling like I did on my first run of the year when I was convinced I couldn’t go on.
The feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress can all be overwhelming. The answer, however, isn’t to shut down and go into a cave. We should be able to weather’s life’s conflicts, not avoid them.
I understand the temptation to want to shut everything off. There are days when all I want to do is stay home and binge watch episodes of “The Joy of Painting” and hear Bob Ross talk about happy accidents and having trees as friends. I get that and sometimes we do need to rest. But just as we rest our bodies from exercise not to avoid physical challenge but to progress to the next level, we rest our souls not to avoid life’s shittier moments but to progress to the next level of being a functional human being.
Every day is a winding road
I’ve got a bit of a crush on Sheryl Crow. I have one of her songs, “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” on my running playlist. I love the imagery the chorus evokes:
Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer feeling fine
The road I’ve been running the last couple of years has been a long hard one. Lots of ups and downs and emotional shin splints. But I’ve learned to manage those parts of who I am that undermine my ability to enjoy life, even when life doesn’t seem to be something to enjoy. I couldn’t have done it along and it took a long time for me to get there, but it’s been a process I would not trade for an entire life free of conflict.
First, I sought help. I spent a couple of years in counseling and did the hard work of facing the weakest parts of who I am. With the help of some gifted professionals, I learned how to leverage my weaknesses to get better at dealing with life’s challenges.
Second, I weaned onto a daily struggle. Most of the time we talk about weaning ourselves off of things. I learned how to run toward difficult moments, but did it carefully. I took on small challenges to start and worked my way up.
Third, I found people who I gave permission to not allow me to revert back into my worst ways; people who would challenge me when I wanted to stay stuck or want to crawl into a hole.
One of the great tragedies I see happening today is people using how their wired as an excuse to not deal with life. I’ve seen entire books dedicated to giving people permission to avoid conflict at any cost. Ultimately, that stunts a person’s ability to become everything they’re meant to be. We all have to learn to manage how we’re wired so we can function in society without having isolating ourselves from the realities of life.
Don’t misunderstand. There is a great need for each of us to develop a healthy level of emotional intelligence so we can play well with each other. But we also need to understand that there is what health and science writer Agata Blaszczak-Boxea calls a “dark side to emotional intelligence” that can leave people “too emotionally astute for their own good.”
Almost a year after my first run, I’m now up to running seven miles with an average pace of about 9:30/mile. If I had quit when running became difficult, like I often wanted to, I would never have realized what I was capable of; and I’m nowhere close to being done.
When the conflicts and bad news of life brings you down, you may be tempted to shut yourself off. But you don’t have to feel like you can’t take it anymore. Lean into the challenge and become someone who is stronger, enduring, confident, and, most important, aware of the kind of human being you’re truly capable of being.