I ran an 8k (4.9) miles on Saturday in a local race. I didn't really train for it, although since I am still feeling the after-affects two days later, I would advise training a little bit for these sorts of things. A friend knew I have been a gym regular since December and thought I might enjoy this, so I gave it a whirl. I finished in 58 minutes, which is not going to make me eligible for any sort of medals in the near future, but a 12 minute mile is at least respectable. My only other goal was to not come in dead last, which also didn't happen. It was tougher than I thought, and I learned my lesson about guzzling loads of water before a race (I sprinted for a porta-potty after mile 2; this despite my fear of porta-potties, but that's a story for another day). Today I spent a few minutes looking for another race I could do.
Before I did the race, L asked me why I was doing this and my only response was, "I just want to see if I can." Turns out this is sort of how I do most things in my life. I don't always have a plan, just an idea, and often the only motivation I have is to see if I can do it. When I put something into such a small sentiment as this, it turns out I'm able to do much bigger things than I expected. Graduate school was one of these ideas - so was finishing my thesis.
During my run I found myself setting mini-goals when I wasn't sure I could go any further. Maybe I will walk when I get to that tree, and then only walk until I get to the end of the fence. Maybe I will just try to pass the guy in the white tee-shirt. This made something big into something much less scary and challenging. This was the same process that a friend suggested when I really thought my thesis was not going to happen. She suggested writing a little each day, even if it has nothing to do with your thesis. She suggested breaking down my paper into chapters, then main ideas, and then into paragraphs. I can write a paragraph - that's not scary or very hard. I could run to that next fence, that seems okay. I could try this campaign school program and see what happens. I could just live in Baltimore for a few months, then move back if I don't like it. I could try living in DC for one year and see what happens. I could move to Las Vegas, and I can move back if it doesn't work out (well, that one didn't - but I had to see, right?)
I find that the majority of these things I try to see if I can work out, many in ways that I couldn't have predicted or expected. Each of these little things tends to lead to some new learning and bigger adventures, and less fear. I don't see myself as some type of adventuring pioneer, but I do believe that each time I do something to see if I can do it, it leads to less fear of other things and some type of growth. Someone, in anger, told me this past week that I have "changed" and this person wielded this word like a weapon, trying to hit the spot between the armor. And when I read that, first I laughed, and then I felt a little sad for the person who saw change as something bad. I can't think of anything worse than not trying new things, seeing new places, eating weird foods, challenging myself physically, mentally, and professionally. People are meant to change and grow. To be emotionally stunted in a place, trying to recreate a past that no longer exists sounds awful. For me, the one thing that has given my life meaning and surprise, joy and growth is doing things just to see if I can.
UPDATE: I just found this great blog post that echos what I was trying to say. I'm adding this blog (Tiny Buddha is on twitter) to my regular reading list.