More than ever before, I have recently been reminded of a lesson my mother tries to teach me at every difficult point in my life: life is a process, not a destination.
This photo of a journey is a lot prettier than a photo of my actual journey would be, as my journey has involved a lot of crying and chocolate. (Photo CC by Chez Andre)
Over Christmas break, I developed a bad case of the respiratory flu, one that I still haven’t fully recovered from more than a month later. This sickness basically stripped me of all my good health and my running ability, and forced me to start again from scratch. When I contracted the flu, I was just coming off of a transition period in my training, a period of time between cross country and track seasons where we purposely get a little out of shape in order to give our bodies a rest before we ask them to push beyond their preconceived limits for another season of grueling workouts and stressful races. After this transition, getting back into running was a little difficult, but after about three weeks, I felt like I was back to the fitness level I had been before the running break. Getting sick not only destroyed this regained fitness, it took away my motivation and ability to do every day tasks, like sleep, eat, and leave my house. I realize this post kind of has a “Oh poor me feel sorry for me” vibe, but hey, the respiratory flu is just pretty sucky!
Lately, I have been working on getting healthy and getting back into shape, and the going has been slow. I’m consistently the slowest person on the team during workouts, and hour long runs, which used to be my “easy” (but not really so easy) days are now a death march conducted by Captain Pain and Sadness (a.k.a., my coach– but really, he’s a great guy). Every day, I think, “Wow, I used to be so fit, and now I’m just about as athletic as that dead deer on the side of the road!” And then I swerve to avoid the roadkill, because really, that’s just unsanitary.
Throughout this period of strife, I remember my mom’s lesson about life being a process. We never truly reach a destination in life, and we never have all the tools we need to be completely happy. I remember the first time I thought I would finally reach my destination of happiness, and have no more worries or issues, was when I first attended college my freshman year at South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City. In my mind, college was the place where girls like me, girls that didn’t necessarily fit in at their high schools, finally found their friends, and found their place in the world. After a couple months of college, I was just shocked– this wasn’t a destination, and the journey was just as dreary as it was before! I had met some of the best friends I had ever had, and I found a place where I fit in, yet I wasn’t fully fulfilled. I had a boyfriend at home, seven hours away, that I sorely missed, and, most alarming of all, was that I wasn’t passionate about my chosen major, Geological Engineering. In fact, the thought of doing this the rest of my life made me panicky, and, since Mines is primarily an engineering school, there wasn’t a major for me to switch to. I would wake up in the mornings with my heart racing, knowing that I had to make a change, or I wouldn’t get anywhere in life. Obviously, this was not a destination, just another challenging part of my journey.
Canyon Lake Park in Rapid, a place that looks much more peaceful than my decision-making process in the same town was. (Photo CC by Alex Calderon)
Deciding to transfer from Mines to Chadron was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. For possibly the first time in my life, I had a group of friends that fully understood me and cared about me, and recognized that sometimes, I just needed a little bit of alone time, and they let me has this without deserting me. The friends I had, and still have, at Mines, were primarily my cross country teammates, and we connected on a pretty deep level about our running, our schooling, and our overall being. I am truly grateful for everything these amazing people did for me, from helping me do (sort of) well in calculus to uncovering my latent ability to sprint (sort of fast). Plus, I was doing well academically at Mines– I landed on the Dean’s list both semesters I attended there. On paper, I should have stayed at Mines, and received the promise of a $60,000/year starting salary, a promise with which they entice new recruits (even though it’s like, what if I don’t get a job as an engineer? What if I don’t get a job at all? What if I become overwhelmed with the material world, and go all Thoreau and live in a cabin in Spearfish Canyon? There’s seriously no guarantee).
Baby dino at the School of Mines. I know I’ve put this into one of my blogs before, by seriously, the dinosaur is wearing mittens. (Photo CC by the lovely Therese Frels)
My heart was in teaching, however, and I think it has always been. I have witnessed a lack of empathy and kindness in my peers throughout the years, an observation that was notably evident at Mines. Many of the students there are undoubtedly bright, but lack the ability to see the value of people that may be intelligent in ways that the Mines students could not fathom. Sometimes, I felt that the only intelligence that was valued was a knowledge of math and science, an incredibly narrow scope in the whole scheme of the universe. I wondered how some of these kids got this way, and wondered if I, as a teacher, could evoke a little more kindness in the hearts of these kinds of kids. This desire to become an educator grew within me, and I decided, for the time being at least, that teaching was the way I wanted to make my mark in the world. I chose Chadron State College because it’s in my home state so tuition is low, and it’s only an hour and a half from my friends in Rapid, so I can see them on a regular basis. Plus, my boyfriend goes here, but that’s like, whatever (but for real, its pretty cool).
So, I’ve come to see Chadron as the next leg of my journey, but I know it’s not a destination. Sometimes I feel the same way at Chadron that I did in high school, that I don’t quite fit in here and its not the ideal situation for me, but that’s the beauty of life being a journey– if a place or a situation isn’t perfect, it doesn’t have to be forever, it’s just a stop along the way where I’ll gain knowledge and a greater appreciation for who I am. And besides, I’ve met great people at Chadron as well, people that have helped shape my perception of running, education, and life in general. Life isn’t perfect here, but I don’t have to be completely content at a place for it to be the right place for me at the moment.
Chadron sunset. For being a journey, and not a destination, Chadron sure is a beautiful place. (Photo CC by Michael Sauers)
So, this brings me back to my running journey– it won’t ever be over (at least hopefully). I’ll run, I’ll have my bad stretches, I’ll have my good stretches, I’ll have my PRs, and and I’ll have my last place finishes (and sometimes, I’ll finish last and still PR– thus is the life of a college runner). I may be sick and out of shape now, but I won’t always be. Eventually, I’ll improve my fitness level and not always get last place in our workouts. But maybe I will– Chadron long distance runners are a pretty fab and fit group. Either way, it’s all part of my process of becoming a fully formed runner, and a fully formed person, a process that won’t be complete until I reach whatever comes at the end– Heaven, reincarnation, Nirvana, whatever floats your goat. But throughout the whole of it, I’ll remember the one mantra that keeps me sane, that life if a process, not a destination (thanks mom, for being stuck in my head for the rest of my eternity here on earth). And life is beautiful, no matter where I may find myself, as long as I actively seek out what is good and what forms me into the person I’m meant to be.
This photo of running is also a lot prettier than an actual picture of me running would be, because, good Lord, my face when I’m running. (Photo CC by Igh75)