Straight Ahead

I recall a time when I was running a half marathon several years ago. I’ve never been what would be considered fast. But that day, miracles aligned, and I set a personal record. I didn’t stick around for the awards ceremony because it was cold and I was tired. I didn’t figure I had even come close to placing anyway. A few days later, a friend of mine came across the results of the race and guess what?! I came in fourth in my division. That’s one spot away from officially placing and taking home an award. My friend offered his condolences as he pointed out that I had “come so close.” He asked if I was disappointed.

How could I have been disappointed? I knew I ran as hard and as fast for as long as I could. Had I started walking before I felt bolts of lightning shooting through both of my shins and fire in my lungs, then I would’ve been disappointed. I ran my best race and I was thrilled. It’s not a bad thing to come in fourth when you deserve to come in fourth. It’s only disappointing when you know in your heart that you could’ve placed higher if you had only pushed just a little harder.

People leave a lot on the table because they start walking too soon. Things get a little uncomfortable and that’s enough to duck out of the race. Be it a rejection, a setback, a pandemic, or tired muscles and burning lungs, people find reasons to shut down and give up when the going gets tough. I’ve done it too. I bet we all have. Our partners come to us with confessions and we opt for divorce instead of marital counseling. Someone less qualified is offered a promotion that we deserve, so we resort to looking for another job instead of accepting constructive criticism and growing where there is opportunity for personal development. Jumping ship is easier, right?

Even now as I sit and write this, I am drained. I couldn’t sleep last night and today left little to no time for a break. Several times, I was tempted and teased by the allure of canceling appointments, skipping runs, and rescheduling calls. I wanted so badly to slide paperwork off until the always elusive “tomorrow.” I did none of these things. I made myself some green tea and went back to work. I set timers, because surely, I can focus on the task at hand for 10 minutes at least. Surely, I can make just one more call.

There is something richly rewarding in having given your all to your work. There is something beautiful in exhaustion. It’s not a healthy perpetual cycle to run yourself ragged, but there is something satisfying about knowing you didn’t quit or give up. It feels much better the next day, too – after your effort is rewarded by a great night’s sleep and you wake up to a much lesser to-do list the next day.

We have all hit walls where it seems progress is impossible. Worse yet, we get comfortable with a level of success that demands nothing more of us. We stop pushing against the odds. We stop silencing the critics with our success. We stop giving of our energies, our talents, and our time prematurely – when there is still so much left on the table.

There is a time to slow down – when lightning is piercing through your shins. But don’t stop pushing until then. Run your race, your career, and your life in a way that makes you proud. Regardless of where you end up, it will be much farther ahead than where you will be if you give up. Keep going. Keep pushing. Keep working. Keep reading the books that inspire you. Keep exercising. Keep eating right. Keep learning. Keep communicating with your family – even when it’s difficult. Keep forgiving. Keep listening. Keep praying. Keep running because only you can run your race and it’s up to you to place where you deserve – to live the life that your efforts earn.

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