“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you.” Thomas Jefferson
I almost didn’t run. It was cold-gray outside. A kind of sudden winter day that callously forgot to allow for the acclimation to fall’s passing. I awoke sluggish and felt the weight of things to do. A lot of problems to solve–business and personal stuff. It would be far easier to skip the run, I thought. Just dive in. Begin knocking off all the tasks facing me. My to do list I knew would take all day to accomplish. It made me think about quitting and simply going back to bed. Try again tomorrow.
Sometimes the greatest things happen when we ignore ourselves. I disregarded the talk in my brain as I slipped my arms into my long sleeve thermal top and pulled it over my head, laced up my shoes and slid gloves and hat on. One deep breath of the warmth of home and I was out the door.
Outside I was sleep-running. About halfway through my run, as I dropped into a descent on the road, I awoke. The air, chilly and unpleasant before, was suddenly crisp. The gray, which was at best depressing, suddenly felt welcoming. I could have been running hills in New Zealand or along a backcountry road in Ireland or Boulder, in a forest in California, or on a beach in North Carolina. It didn’t matter.
I was running. Moving versus not moving. Against the strongest desire to just be comfortable. I shrugged off my consternation about the day and the comfort of home and forced myself out the door. I was renewed. The day’s to-do list was much less daunting because of the change in my perspective.
Could this experience apply in a greater way to life?
Staying put is a choice just as much as choosing to do something. It is a choice to not do anything. We are wired so for comfort and security, to not take risks. Looking out at the world from inside the glass is so much easier than pushing into the weather, even if we know on some level being out there is much better for us. It’s the kind of either or choice that should not be a choice. Why do we get so stuck?
Looking out at the world from inside the glass is so much easier than pushing into the weather…
I began to look back into my history for places where I chose to not do anything rather than chose to move forward. There were an alarming number of times I selected the easier but not smarter way. Out of fear of the unknown or, more likely, fear of reprisals from those whom my choice to take some action might affect, I did nothing and hoped it would all turn out. Just as many times I chose to take some action and sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. That’s life, right?
The point is that we always have to move forward with what we know at the time. I still made mistakes and chose wrongly, but at least I chose. I still hurt or angered people sometimes by what I said or did but I realize not doing anything only delayed the inevitable: I would eventually have to choose to do something and that wound up causing even greater hurt to all.
Thirty years ago, I first glimpsed the damage doing nothing could do in a writing class I was taking. A talented writer read an autobiographical piece about being afraid to break up with his fiance even though he knew marrying her was the wrong thing to do. They had a fight over his lack of help with Christmas shopping for family and friends that was really about the deeper issue of their impending marriage. His inability to articulate his fears could have been worked out through conversation. He could have sat her down and expressed his doubts, doubts she may have been having too. Instead he sabotaged the relationship by doing nothing and wound up lying between “two monster speakers and drinking martinis until he couldn’t think anymore” as she walked out the door never to return.
“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy
A friend expressed something similar recently in discussing his life. Although he felt he and his ex-wife had run far astray of what their marriage had been, he was too afraid at the time to have the difficult conversation about what was inside him. He chose instead to ignore it and devote his energies to his kids and his career, even when it became apparent that the relationship was crumbling beneath them. It was during a vacation when the two of them took the chance to discuss what was wrong with their marriage. Though they made some progress they failed to do what in their hearts they knew they had to do–break up–because it was easier to do nothing. Years later, the couple divorced in an ugly split that was bad for years for everyone, especially the kids.
Should the friend have been more honest at the outset and made the more difficult choice he might have saved his marriage or at least the split may have been more amiable.
There many times in our lives when doing something, though the more uncomfortable and perhaps harder choice, is the right one. John F. Kennedy said: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”
My run today proved to me the value in shrugging off the comfort of staying put and going out into the world.