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An Open Road

I did a dumb thing last weekend and decided to add a couple of miles to the distance I normally run on Saturdays. It wasn’t horrible, but the two miles I had to walk after I bonked were humbling. For much of every step, I chastised myself for not knowing my capacity and for not being quite as fit as I thought I was, focusing primarily on what I was lacking. What I didn’t do, at least until a few days later, was to think about the plus column, all the things I did right and all the great knowledge I do possess about myself.

The experience reminded me, once again, of the ways in which I tend to view my life from a narrow perspective. I make a plan or set a goal and then I try to achieve it. It’s either do it or don’t. And yet, most of life is enjoyed in the middle, in between the extremes of success and failure. That’s also the place where all the great stuff is stored. It’s in that space between feeling absolutely amazing and terribly depressed that I keep some of my most significant knowledge about myself. But when I’m riding high, I don’t always feel the need to draw on self-awareness. When I’m sad, it just seems too hard to sort through it all to find the real truth.

But when things are quiet and “normal,” I can let myself see my life for what it is—a long, luxurious ride with a ton of bumps, but with lots of time spent in that great open space. And whatever the terrain, I have been lucky enough to glean so much about who and how I am and what works for me and what doesn’t. Still, when I’m faced with a challenge, I tend initially to panic as I did on that run last weekend. I don't freak out like a did when I was younger and things immediately felt doomed, but it still takes me a few beats to remember that all of this is life. Some times are easier than others and on certain days I’m stronger and more adept and more creative. On others, I can barely figure out what to eat for breakfast, much less determine my next move.

The difference now, I realize, is that I’m beginning to see things from a better vantage point. It’s as if I have a clearer perspective, enjoyed from higher ground. I can see the ups and downs before I reach them, and I have an easier time letting them go as I travel on to the next phase. It’s like when you’re a kid with your first bicycle. Everything about it seems exciting, but terribly hard and potentially painful, both physically and emotionally. The chances of crashing are obvious and the odds of looking stupid are even greater. Then, when you practice a little, and you understand how the whole thing works, it gets easier. Even falling doesn’t kill you, and no one except you really notices your gaffes anyway. You get up, dust yourself off, remember what you did that went wrong, and you go again.

It’s in that space in between feeling absolutely amazing and terribly depressed that I keep some of my most significant knowledge about myself.

For most of us, though, no matter how long we’ve done it, riding a bike is still something that requires attention, flexibility, and energy—just like life. I get it that, as we get older, some of us are tired of falling off the bike and feel ready to put it in the garage for good, but I think the secret is the opposite of that. We are storehouses of information, ideas, and experience at this age. This is not when we should stop moving or quit experimenting. It is absolutely the worst time to give up. I know my own mechanisms so much better now than I ever did when I was younger, which makes this the best time to try some new things, push myself a little, even let myself feel scared or sad. The result is almost always a helpful insight, a confirming discovery, a new road to travel.

The unplanned two-mile walk last weekend reminded me again to pay attention—in that case to drink more water and maybe add a mile at a time to my runs instead of two. It didn’t make me feel as if I wanted to quit running or that I should keep my goals small and safe. I’ve done small and safe, when I was younger and had no idea how much power and strength I really had within me. This is the time to feel ever so grateful that the road is still open and inviting and that I have absolutely everything I need to take whatever lovely walk appears before me.

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