We live in a fast, fast world. It’s easy to run haphazardly through life without understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing. Maybe it’s time to take pause.
Like many other late afternoons, I set out to run a mile. The previous weekend, pursued by a furious flash flood, I had far broken a single seven minute mile. Trivial, for most, yet momentous for myself. It had come as a shock, actually. I wasn’t training, not really, and I had definitely not set out with such expectations. The next few days leading up to some deep realizations found me trying to beat — or at least match — my breakout record time.
I booked it down that poorly-lit trail, heart beating, music pounding. I convinced myself to not check my timer. I would do this on my own terms. Every ounce of effort, every muscle strained. The key is to not think about distance, to not think about progress, but just be. If you’re focused enough, the rhythm of your shoes hitting the pavement in sequence creates a certain soothing effect. For a moment you’re invincible. Maybe your favorite song starts playing and you get some psychological rush that pushes you farther along into the night. “One mile…” The voice prompt interrupted my now uneven and strained breaths. Twenty second deficit. Why was this so important? Perhaps my tracker app had glitched that one day, incorrectly giving me a record time. Perhaps I just wasn’t good enough.
Doubt has a funny way of creeping in to every aspect of your life. It’s the cat that slips into your bedroom, unannounced. And then, suddenly, it’s there, brushing up against you, and you can’t get rid of it. Normally I would pick up a slow jog for the mile back. Will at an all time low, I began to walk back, swatting at a few mosquitoes who had decided to take advantage of a now very dark and humid night. I tried hard to keep my mind occupied. I began counting steps, 1, 2, 3… 200. Why was I upset that I couldn’t beat a record I never planned on making? Why was I was angry at myself for my inability to skip steps (planned practice and training) and produce an unrealistic outcome?
The process of running is simple. I’ve run all my life — from people, from responsibilities, from my thoughts, even from myself. Maybe that’s part of why I love spontaneous road trips, destination nowhere. For those few rumbling hours on the road I get to be engulfed in an air of escape, removed from all responsibilities. It’s okay to run, when the time is right. The hard part is coming up with a structured plan and following through. You can run from a relationship, but if you don’t give your own intellect the chance to understand exactly why you did what you did, chances are you’ll make the same mistake again — just like I repeatedly tried to recreate my first mile, but to no avail. Every now and then you’ll get lucky. You’ll skip that part of the textbook that explains when you should use this and why and jump straight to the formula. You’ll be going full-speed ahead and then you’ll get something wrong. It turns out life would’ve been easier if you just started from the beginning the entire time.
Haste makes waste.
– Benjamin Franklin
It’s not entirely my fault though, it’s not yours either. I’m all about personal responsibility, but hear me out. Most of us have a built-in drive to see projects through from start to finish, be it folding laundry, weeding the backyard, or building a new app. (Folks with attention deficiency, like yours truly, often have the same drive; they just don’t always have the capacity to get there in a single setting.) Now imagine you figured out — just you, all by yourself — a way to speed up folding laundry, or skip a step somehow to building your app. You not only get the satisfaction of completing a project, but now also this cool-sunglasses-iced-tea feeling of maybe, just maybe, you’re smarter than everyone around you. It’s part of the draw to modern-day Easter eggs — discovering what not many other have.
Our culture is specifically designed around our desire to skip steps. Take Google, for instance. We can get an answer on literally anything within milliseconds — no need to scrounge through a history book for the birth date of Thomas Jefferson or wonder how Tesla traction control would handle black ice (short answer: pretty damn well); if you thought it, there’s a good chance someone’s already put in the work for you and distilled it down to a single sentence answer. I’m guilty of that even as I write down these words. I was that kid who hated to make outlines for any papers and lived by the “type what you think” religion. In hindsight, I think I was just too lazy to put in the actual work and was so driven by the skipping-steps mentality that my mind found a way to make up excuses supporting such decisions. But there is no next big thing, only constant progress.
There is no next big thing, only constant progress.
Instant. More than half of us will ditch a webpage that takes longer than three seconds to load. Tinder is all about instant options, instant matches. We need our drive-through food within the next five minutes or we might even call the cops. Tweets and Instagram posts typically lose relevancy in a matter of minutes. We’re focused on the short term and we’re losing sight of anything meaningful. Heck, most of us probably spend more time waiting for a televised minute-long event in Times Square every year than organizing our finances.
There is no easy answer, no quick solution. But it starts by retracing our steps through the parts of life we’ve skipped and cultivating a disciplined mindset that is willing to wait. Revisit the mistakes you made and understand how you can do better. Understand. Don’t set your expectations so high. Not to say you shouldn’t have any goals, but be realistic. A lot of us still have so much to learn about ourselves. Join me this month in taking a break from social media. Write down some things you’d like to accomplish, and the consistent steps you can take to make them happen. I’m going out to run a mile. It probably won’t be the fastest, but it’ll be a step in the right direction. Hopefully I’ll see you along the way.