To The Next Lifeguard Stand May 13 2015, 1 Comment
When I lived in the South Bay, three doors from the sand, I loved to run on the beach. Not initially, as it was so much harder than the streets I was used to, but knowing my joints would be grateful, I slowly trained myself to enjoy it.
I ran 2-3 miles on the soft sand, usually every other day, and did that as my cardio exercise for several years. The funny thing is that even after doing it hundreds of times, the thought of the whole journey still felt overwhelming. Every single time. So overwhelming that I wanted to quit before I had even started.
So I had to do it in small increments, and allow myself the possibility of stopping anytime I needed to. Anytime I thought I’d had enough. The first step was to get dressed and put my shoes on. Once that was done it felt kind of silly not to at least make my way down to the sand. That was step two.
I then told myself I had to make it only to the first lifeguard stand and then I could stop and walk back home. But once I made it there I found I still had some energy in me so I would try and make it to the next lifeguard stand. And that process continued throughout my whole run. 90% of the time I ran the total length of the course I had set out to complete, but I always did it one lifeguard stand at a time, giving myself the possibility of turning around and walking home anytime I’d had enough.
This story came up yesterday in a conversation with a good friend. She was talking to me about a project she wants to embark on that will stretch her out of her comfort zone in a major way. She’s actually already signed up for it, but was questioning her decision. The thought of the whole journey left her feeling overwhelmed and confused. She wanted to back out even though a big part of her really wants to do this.
Sharing my lifeguard stand tale made me realize how I tend to get stuck in the same pattern with pretty much everything in my life. I get excited about something, I see the whole picture and I have my eye on the final destination, on the ultimate result. Then I start looking at the road ahead and try to figure out every little step, with every possible outcome and likely alternatives. And then I shut down.
The initial excitement gets buried under the overwhelming task at hand and the fear of not measuring up to it. I end up either doing nothing at all or stopping after I just started. Not knowing the specifics of the next step, or whether I’ll have the strength/knowledge/confidence to make it to the one after that causes such a panic in me that I often don’t even “put my tennis shoes on”.
What I’ve been learning over the years, and still have to remind myself of on a daily basis, is that I can take just one step toward a goal without having to know every single inch of the road ahead. What’s even more powerful for me is to imagine that next step as my ultimate goal. Once I get there, I can celebrate & pat myself on the back, which usually generates fuel to start working on the next leg of the journey.
I’m realizing more and more that it’s actually impossible to know all the specific details of a whole, long path ahead. Too many variables. To bring it back to my running analogy, I might get a cramp, or meet a friend along the way and run their path with them for a while, or perhaps I’ll decide I’d rather go for a swim. And. That’s. Just. Life.
The more I trust myself, the more I trust that I’ll either have the right tools to get through the next step when it’s revealed, or that I’ll somehow develop them. I also trust that I will know if & when it’s just too much, and allow myself to stop and make a new decision.
Another one of my favorite analogies (on the same theme) is the one Jack Canfield uses in the movie “The Secret”. It illustrates so perfectly this concept of trust; of knowing that everything will be revealed in the right time, and that it’s not only unnecessary, but also impossible to have all the pieces in place before we set out on a course.
“Think of this. A car driving through the night, the headlights only go a hundred to two hundred feet forward. And you can make it all the way from California to New York driving, through the dark, because all you have to see is the next two hundred feet. And that’s how life tends to unfold before us. And if we just trust that the next two hundred feet will unfold after that, and the next two hundred after that, our life will keep unfolding. And it will eventually get you to the destination of whatever it is you truly want , because you want it.”
I’m not a marathon runner, I’m a sprinter. My mind is wired in a way that I can easily give my all for 100, 200, or even 400 meters, but the mere thought of 26 miles is pure torture. I’ve learned that about myself and I try to live my life in ways that support my nature.
I also know that having very high expectations of myself and come down hard on little ol' me when I fail to meet them is completely counter-productive. I tried it for many years. Bruised & battered, but still hanging out near the starting line, I decided to adopt a much gentler and compassionate approach. It works so much better for me.
See you at the next lifeguard stand!