Sunday, July 24, 2011

on doing hard things

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

(a tip of the chapeau to DC for posting this quote there first.)

In June of 2005, on the advice of my doctor, I began keeping track of my mileage: daily, weekly, and monthly.

In 2006, I found out about C-KAP, a health-oriented Canadian organization that gives out awards for racking up the miles (or kilometers, as the case may be), and I joined, mostly to give myself a reward for racking up miles and to see how I compared with other people doing the same thing.

In 2007, I enrolled myself in a multi-day charity ride and spent seven months training for it. Along the way I discovered the sport of Randonneuring, and tossed off five metric centuries before riding the actual 210-mile, three day event. (I managed 141 miles before my knee gave out.)

In 2008, I completed three more metric centuries, or populaires as they're called in Rando-land; and discovered that, while I was capable of riding that distance, the recovery involved was agonizingly long. It would take me more than a week to recover from a 62-mile ride. Further, I was so slow that I rode these events entirely alone; on the one hand it was a test of my mental strength, but on the other hand it was just lonely. That's when I suspected that long-distance riding might not be for me. That fall, at a cyclocross race where I'd helped out in the pits, a friend dared me to try the sport the following year. He suggested I race short-track on my mountain bike first, to get the feel of racing off-road and build up some strength over the summer.

And so in 2009, I lined up for my first bicycle race. Clad in a t-shirt, army cut-offs and Vans, I willed my cobbled-together singlespeed mountain bike around the berms, through the rhythm section and across the finish line. I finished dead last, but I finished, and I found my new bicycling activity. I became a bicycle racer.

2011 marks my third season of bicycle racing and I continue to love it. Each season, I have added some element of growth and learning to the experience. This year, I added weight work in the winter and learned to embrace my weekly [push-]mowings of the lawn as an excellent upper-body workout. I added intervals to my commutes once or twice a week. Although I didn't really get any faster I did get stronger, even with the addition of an asthma diagnosis and a couple of different inhalers along the way.

Thinking about the above quote and my experiences over the last several years, I realize now that I am meant to do hard things and somehow thrive by them; and that part of the experience is learning to embrace the hardness of them, no matter the outcome.

Ten years ago, I went to graduate school. It didn't work out, but not for lack of my trying. It just didn't work out. There were too many hurdles for me to get over. I wasn't really equipped for the experience (spiritually, academically or financially) and the school was teetering on the edge of financial collapse (though I did not know that when I enrolled, and they tried hard to hide the fact). I came home with my tail between my legs, sorry and slightly embarrassed that I managed to complete only a semester of graduate school. I put my musical dreams on a shelf and went back to the work I knew how to do.

It's not that the last ten years have been a waste -- very far from it. In leaving grad school, I fell deeply and madly in love, got married, and helped care for my father in the last months of his life. And I put down some real roots in my community.
But I've arrived at a place where it's time for me to go back and look at the interruption, the high brick wall I ran into when I realized that grad school wasn't working out and I'd better stop before it got any more expensive. Maybe grad school wasn't the answer, or maybe that particular program wasn't the answer; but there was something to my dreams that demanded reexamination.

And so I have begun the process of sifting through my dreams and considering where they fit into my life now. It is clear to me that the last few years that I've spent doing hard things are serving me well in this process. In fact, they have shown me what kind of focus and self-discipline I'm capable of. Combined with the love and support of my Sweetie, my friends and family, I feel ready to examine new ideas and new opportunities and see where they might take me. This process begins with going back and looking at where I left off when I halted my graduate studies. I hope I'll get some useful information in the next few months, about myself and maybe a sense of what I'm here for.

It will be hard, at least sometimes. But there's something to be said for doing hard things, no matter the end result.

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