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By April, I decided not to go to grad school. The process of applying had been so agonizing that I couldn’t imagine enjoying myself once I got there. This meant I didn’t know what I’d be doing come fall, but for the first time, I felt OK with that. I had found a rhythm of daily satisfaction and incremental progress. The possible failures of the future didn’t freak me out as much. 

In June, my smug new sense of purpose reached its peak. One day, I came back from work, decided I didn’t need to wait for the race, and ran 10 kilometers then and there. Then I finished a 1,500-word essay I’d been putting off. I’d been working against the feeling of impossibility, the fear that I would never be the kind of person who could run that far or write that much. What I discovered, simply by doing them, was that I didn’t have to be a different kind of person. Training consistently had transformed my capabilities, but I had not changed. That felt radical. I felt on top of the world. 

But by August, my life circumstances changed, and then kept changing. I was traveling a lot, working odd jobs and then no job, living in various places, including a loft and a van. Without the stability of routine, I found it harder to make time to run or write. And when I did, I hated how rusty I felt. When running, my lungs and legs gave out so early. When writing, my attention wandered, or my inspiration dried up.

There was plenty I loved about the time I spent traveling. Water-skiing with old friends at a beloved lake in Tahoe, road-tripping down the California coast, camping on the beach, backpacking in the mountains. But, privately, I stressed about my broken streaks of journaling or running. I’d spent months measuring the success of my daily life against strict criteria. Abandoning those self-imposed rules sometimes made me so anxious that I got dizzy with guilt on days I ate cake but didn’t run, or gave up on a writing session because I felt too blocked. 

I realized that my fixation with discipline had verged into disorder. My anxiety hadn’t gone away so much as relocated, manifesting as productivity instead of procrastination. I held it at bay with a daily log of words written and calories burned. I thought I’d stumbled into a mystical revelation about how to become the person I wanted to be through daily discipline and a philosophy of process over product. Really, I’d just found a different way to berate myself for not yet being good enough. 

Slowly, I began to recalibrate what I wanted for myself. The more plans I made to spend my evenings doing something fun — catching up with a friend, seeing a play, or cooking — the more often I found myself at the end of the day without having run or written. But savoring these special occasions felt so much better than stewing in guilt over dropped habits. I made my peace. Spending time with my friends, instead of single-mindedly grinding through my to-do list, was its own reward. 

Plus, when I stopped seeing success through such a narrow lens — running 5K three times a week, writing 1,000 words every day — I realized how much joy I derived from other ways of celebrating my body and mind. Even when I wasn’t running, I was climbing, playing tennis, and doing yoga. I was relishing the food I ate. I was resting, which my body deserved too. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was reading, listening, and watching. I was jotting down lines of poetry in the Notes app on my phone. I was talking to my friends about the art I loved or the ideas I was mulling. 

In relinquishing control over my daily habits, I found the last, unexpected lesson: It’s only worth it if it’s fun. 

To be sure, it can’t always and only be fun. Part of the euphoria of setting and achieving goals is that it makes the dull slog of progress worth it. But running and writing were ends in and of themselves, not means to becoming a worthy person. And the people I admire as great runners and writers only got that way from putting in a massive quantity of energy and time. How I perceived them from the outside was a small — and subjective! — side effect of their daily devotion. 

I had been seeking to legitimize my identity — as a runner, as a writer — but that was a distraction. The more pressure I put on myself, the less I learned from doing either. When I spent every run wishing I could go faster or farther, I steamrolled over my body’s cues. It was only when I let myself be proud of each session that I started to realize I ran faster and farther if I warmed up properly and ate beforehand. And only then did I get better.

Similarly, if I worried about how much or how little time I spent writing, I wasn’t writing. I was worrying. But if I let myself type, if I let myself get through a sentence, and then another, and then those two sentences made me think of something else, the writing time accumulated anyway. 

I still have goals — running a marathon, writing a novel — but it’s the work in progress that intrigues me now, more than the finished product itself. And I have a better sense of how to let that progress excite but not consume me. I’m grateful to have punctured the mythologies of running and writing alike. It has been a gift to realize that there is no great glamour in being a runner; the main rewards come simply from the act of running. Being a writer doesn’t necessarily feel like anything; it’s the act of writing that feels like thinking, like learning, like making something new. ●


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#Running #Writing #Anxious #Heres

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