I remember the moment I denounced Perfectionism in my life. During my first term of graduate school, I was sitting on my sofa studying, feeling excruciating stress over a paper I needed to write. I was struggling to understand what the professor wanted, wondering how other students in the cohort would approach the material—worrying about whether I could write the BEST paper in the group.
My living room at the time looked out over Lake Whatcom—still, serene, and sure of its place in the world. I had a sudden thought that went something like this: Wow, I’m stressed out—but not because I can’t understand this stuff I’m studying. I’m stressed over proving myself. Over meeting a standard, like if I don’t get an A on this paper it will mean I’m objectively, truly, irrevocably stupid.
The realization that I was trying to prove to myself (and the world) I was smart, hit me hard. I took some time to look back over my life at the evidence on both sides. Sure, I’d done a stupid thing or two in my life, but by and large the proof pointed toward “smart”—not brilliant, but smart. I didn’t really even know where I got the idea that I wasn’t bright and that I needed to compensate for my obtuseness by getting perfect grades, but somewhere along the line I’d grown to believe it.
Right there in that moment I made myself a promise that I would finish my graduate program striving only to fully grasp the material and suck the experience dry of everything it had to offer me. I would throw myself wholeheartedly into my studies and let the grades be whatever they would be. My heartfelt effort would have to be good enough!
I’m thinking of this now because of my race last week. When I wrote that I was disappointed I hadn’t been able to reach my 10 minute per mile goal, a handful of friends who had read my book wrote to me worried. “Are you being hard on yourself? Are you becoming one of those runners who isn’t happy with running unless she beats her last time?”
Don’t fret, friends.
I wanted to write a word or two about the difference between disappointment and self-loathing. I think disappointment is a natural emotion. It’s not so awfully painful if it happens now and again and is handled with self-compassion and care. Not reaching my goal last weekend made me feel disappointed that my training was still incomplete. I suspected that was true before going into the race, but had hoped perhaps I would have an especially energetic run.
But rest assured that I didn’t delve into Perfectionism’s dark hole of self-loathing. Not for one minute did I feel like less of a runner or fail to feel proud of myself for finishing the Kirkland Half Marathon. I NEVER forget that I come from a family of non-athletes and that the very fact that I run is a victory. I’m loving Brene Brown’s term “wholeheartedness” lately because it describes the abandoned joy with which one can approach something—anything—without the voice of the Inner Mean Girl beating the crap out of us.
I ran the Kirkland race wholeheartedly. I didn’t phone it in; I gave myself to the experience. And my finishing time was quite good enough. It just wasn’t what I’d been training for. And this week I’m back to training so I can do the next one at my goal pace of 10 minutes a mile (because you know, there’s ALWAYS a next one). I know you approach your running with wholeheartedness, too. Sometimes being wholehearted means you feel glee and pride; sometimes it means you feel disappointment and sadness, but it always means you suck an experience dry of all it has to offer.
This week in training:
Carol and I have been talking about how to balance pace training for three different distances at the same time (the 10 K, the half marathon and, eventually the marathon). She suggests that I follow some pace work at my slower paces with a few miles at the faster pace to begin to train my body to put greater energy out at the end of a longer race. My training will reflect this in the weeks to come.
Monday: A walk. No speed work. I was sore (in spite of not reaching my goal pace last week, I ran hard on the course’s many hills so I was more sore than usual).
Tuesday: A walk. Still sore.
Wednesday: Pace work in Carol’s group. We did “the ladder,” in which we ran at our 10 K pace for one minute, then two minutes, three minutes, and four minutes (with a two minute recovery break between each segment) and then worked our way back down.
Thursday: A walk.
Friday: Six mile run.
Saturday: Pace work at the track with Bill. Two miles at my half marathon pace (10 mins/mile), recover briefly, and then two more miles at my faster 10 K pace (9:30).