Choosing to Walk When Everyone Else is Running

Usually while my laundry is in the dryer I head off to the gym and walk on the treadmill, but today, for the first time in ages, it was actually nice enough to walk outside. I took advantage of the lack of bitterness in the air and decided to walk along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The area surrounds dozens and dozens of brownstones, so you can understand why this was an obvious choice for me. Since it’s Marathon weekend here in Boston, there were a lot of people out and about, and a good majority of them were running.

I should preface this by saying that I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. I distinctly remember being required to run the pacer test or the mile in high school and wanting to absolutely die. Running has never agreed with my constitution. It’s not something that my body enjoys in the slightest. Runner’s high? Never heard of it. My point is this: running and I have never naturally gone together. Walking, on the other hand? One of my best friends. Yoga? Blissful and challenging (despite my lack of inherent flexibility). Pilates? My personal nirvana. But running? We are two ships passing in the night – we always have been, and we always will be. This I know for sure.

Appropriately, the other day I was watching one of Simi Botics Insta Stories where she said something that struck a chord. She was on a walk and spoke of how she used to push her body to exercise in ways that didn’t feel good, thinking that walking wasn’t an adequate form of exercise. I took her message as essentially saying: there is something beautiful about moving in ways that are kind to your body. And even more generally, there is something even more beautiful in moving through your life in ways that are kind to your spirit. For me personally, my hustling toward perfectionism has taken just about every form but exercising in ways that don’t honor my constitution. I have never pushed myself to become a runner, and I straight up refuse to go to Soul Cycle or any other type of spinning class. I deeply know in my gut that high-intensity exercise doesn’t work for me. I’ve accepted that part of myself and have never tried to change it.

When it comes to the rest of my life, however, I’ve just recently come to realize the extent to which I’ve pushed myself to do things that aren’t complimentary to my constitution in the name of growth. No, actually strike that – in the name of worthiness and lovability. Growth is a beautiful thing – I think it’s what we’re here for and that it is a natural by-product of going through life with awareness and consciousness. It wouldn’t make much sense to go through life without naturally evolving and changing. But there is a big difference between naturally transforming through life experiences over time (growth), and pushing yourself to change in order to be loved and accepted (perfectionism).

As I was walking through the mall and seeing people run past me, I started thinking about how this metaphor has been so pervasive in my life. When we are living a life that is rooted in self-acceptance and is in alignment with our deeper values and purpose, we can walk along our path and watch dozens of people run past us and be confident enough to keep moving at a pace that is comfortable for us. But if we are insecure in our worthiness and unclear of our values and purpose, the moment we see people running past us, we feel pressure to start running too. We feel this pressure and start running along without taking the time to evaluate whether we want to be on the path, let alone at the final destination, of any of these runners.

I have been on the hustle train to Perfection Town for as long as I can remember. And I had no idea that was the train I was on. In my mind, I was following society’s rules for what it meant to be successful and significant, and I was working my absolute hardest at meticulously and methodically ridding myself of any of my natural traits and tendencies that fell outside of what I felt I needed to be accepted and loved. I am a naturally curious person, and I love to learn, but I’m just now realizing that the motivation behind so much of what I’ve done was not coming from a healthy place. I’ve been trying to fix myself and measure up to others and I am exhausted. I have been running for so long when all I really wanted to do was walk. I have been on a train headed for a destination that a crowd of runners decided on (largely because of social conditioning, but I digress) without ever having asked myself where they were going, whether I wanted to be there, and why I decided to join them in the first place.

I’m ready to get off the train. I can envision myself pushing through crowds of people – mostly versions of myself that I’ve believed I had to become in order to be loved – advancing through each car until I reach the conductor and pull him out of his seat and put an end to the madness. I’m stopping the train and then I’m getting off. I’m throwing my baton to the ground in the relay race and walking away. I’m done. I surrender. I’m exhausted and I’m tapping out.

All the pushing, performing, and perfecting in the name of being enough is wasted energy – even and especially when you realize that you’ve been pushing yourself so hard to be something you are not. I am not a runner. For some reason this was very easy for me to accept in my life when it came to exercise. But I have been hustling so, so hard to “do the things that scare me” in the name of growth and transformation, and while I’m grateful for how far I’ve come and for the doors that have opened in my life, I am exhausted. And the reason why I am exhausted is because the motivation behind so many of my decisions has been coming from a place of lack. A place of thinking: once I’ve fixed that quality, and once I’ve attained that prestige, and once I meet those requirements, I will finally feel good enough. It was all based on external markers of success and lovability, and it was all a lie.

Mari Andrew did an incredible post the other day that really hit home for me on the “doing the things that scare you” front. A member of the audience at her book event asked, “Since graduating from college, I’ve been getting this advice often: ‘Do what scares you.’ What’s your take on that?” Her answer:

NOPE, no need to do things that scare you! Life is hard enough! Do pleasant things!! Why must we be uncomfortable to be admirable??

We all have totally different comfort zones and I think it’s FINE and HEALTHY to stay in yours. You cultivated it for a good reason!

I have been pushing myself so far outside my comfort zone to fit into a more acceptable mold for people for YEARS and I am tired. While I have grown and matured and I don’t regret most of my acts of stepping outside of my comfort zone because of the transformation that it’s brought to my life, I’m at the point (my mid-twenties) where I’m saying: okay that was great and I came far, but I’m ready to rest. And more important than that act of saying “no more,” is realizing that the motivation behind so many of my actions was negative. I’m now only willing to step outside of my comfort zone (or at least toward the edge of it), when the motivation behind it is rooted in something positive, and aligned with my deeper values. In other words, I will no longer run when I’d rather be walking when the motivation to run is rooted in being accepted by others (who happen to think that running is the only pathway to success and significance).

I remember being in 11th grade and my pre-calc teacher kept calling me a “nervous Nelly” throughout the year. I was horrified each time and never said anything. [In hindsight, this was not only incredibly insensitive and cruel, but problematic on a larger level – what if I had a serious anxiety disorder? I was just going through adolescence and having a rough go of it! Ugh, I digress.]  Anyway, she called me out one of my deepest insecurities (being seen as anxious aka imperfect) and well before she ever said that, my motivation in life was to hide that trait from everyone. In later years, my motivation switched from hiding my imperfections to ridding myself of them. I’ve been on the train to Perfection Town ever since. But that’s all over now.

For the first time ever, I’m not looking for the next “answer” that will make me whole, worthy, or lovable. There is no perfect diet, or GPA, or job, or outfit, and on and on and on. I have been running after things I thought I needed to achieve (or maintain) in order to feel worthy or desirable or superior, only to realize that none of it works! Even if you achieve what you desire, if it’s coming from a desperate or unworthy place, you will be so terrified of losing it that you won’t even be able to enjoy it. The truth is this: we never “arrive.” I have been on a quest to “arrive,” to be seen and accepted and loved and to finally, finally feel worthy, for my entire adolescent and young adult life. And I am tired. So I am stopping. Because it is fruitless.

Laura McKowen just posted this great Anne Lamott quote on Instagram that sums it all up:

Being enough was going to have to be an inside job.

The realizations are only half the battle. The real work here is no work at all, though. It’s as simple (and as complicated) as learning how to deeply trust that I am just as lovable on my worst day as I am on my best day. It’s trusting that despite any external factor (my weight, how clear my skin is, my GPA, my employment status), that I am inherently lovable – no qualifiers. In the past, I would have gotten excited and ready to take on the challenge of this “inside job,” that Anne Lamott speaks of – to fix whatever part of myself I felt was at the root of why I didn’t feel “enough.” But I’m done with that life. I’m done running, and I’m choosing to walk.

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