I HAVE NEVER BEEN ATHLETIC.
Wait, I’ve shocked you, haven’t I?
You picture me jet-setting around the globe cliff diving, zip lining, flamenco dancing while dodging bulls, Penelope Cruz meets Lara Croft, right?
Or maybe not.
But the truth is: I am not naturally gifted in that way.
Some people are. My sister-in-law is a gazelle. Gravity does not seem to have the same effect on her as it does on me. It seems hard pressed to keep her tethered, while I am quite definitely earth bound.
Once, walking behind my taller, lankier, younger brother, I pointed out to my mother that he was loping. Loping! Fully expecting to be comforted and reassured, I said to her sorrowfully: I will never lope. Nope, she said, you will scurry, just like I do. WTF, Mom?!?
But, ever since I can remember, this same woman forced me to play team sports. And, each of these had the inevitable horrifying hurdle. Every single one of them involved running.
GOD, I HATED RUNNING.
Aside from that one freak incident where I won the fifty yard dash in first grade, earning myself my one and only athletic trophy (why yes, I do think I have that blue ribbon around here somewhere), running has been my bete noire.
At the beginning of every practice we would set off across wide green fields in a giant heaving pack. Picture us: a herd of cheetah, pronghorn antelope, brown hares, and blue wildebeest.* And me: the koala, ** clearly way out of its natural habitat. (*These are some of the world’s fastest land animals. **This, um, is not.)
I could never catch my breath or settle into a pace. Every moment felt like I was drowning, gasping for air.
It was a battle for survival, and I was always about to lose the fight. It was just too much. Overwhelming, impossible, awful.
It felt inherently wrong. I just wasn’t built for it. It went against my very nature.
It didn’t feel like something I could work at and master. It felt unachievable, that it was simply beyond me. It didn’t inspire me to want to try harder. It made me want to run away.
(Not literally, obviously).
THE MILLISECOND I WAS ABLE TO ESCAPE THIS TORTURE, I DID.
And was so traumatized that I studiously avoided all forms of group sports and exercise for years.
It wasn’t until law school, when the ridiculous stress and pressure demanded a release, that I was driven to join a gym, despite my many misgivings. I started slowly and carefully, and found I was happiest choosing classes in which I could manage the intensity and slow my breathing and heart rate if I felt the need.
And I discovered that having that control to do things my own way allowed me to push myself spectacularly hard.
I could go all out without fear of drowning because it was in my hands. And so I sought out more and more intense, complicated classes until I was taking the most difficult ones the gym had to offer.
And found it glorious, actually. It was wonderful to push myself physically. I didn’t feel overwhelmed or inadequate. Instead, I discovered that I was strong, powerful, capable. Athletic even.
ONE DAY MY PERSONAL TRAINER IN NYC MADE THE HIDEOUS ERROR OF ASKING ME TO WARM UP BY RUNNING ON THE TREADMILL.
Barely glancing at him, I snorted: oh, no, I don’t run. I’ll go walk like the hounds of hell are on my heels, but I DO NOT RUN. And said this with enough vehemence that he backed away cautiously and refrained from making any more idiotic requests.
But, I found myself wondering. Really? You cannot run AT ALL?
You have had a gym membership for ten years, seek out and excel in the most complex, difficult step and funk classes offered, and regularly enjoy the hell out of pushing yourself to a state of heart pounding, wringing sweat exhaustion.
You voluntarily leave the delicious coziness of a warm bed at oh-my-god-it’s-early-thirty every week to allow a disturbingly sadistic trainer make you do things that no sane human should be getting up to.
You are svelter, stronger, and more powerful than your genes had any right to expect.
And you cannot run for even thirty seconds? Really? Really?
Damn, but I can be demanding at times.
And so I tried it. Just for thirty seconds. For nobody but me. At a pace that would impress no one ever.
And I didn’t die.
In fact, when I got to thirty seconds, I decided I could probably handle another few seconds. Possibly an additional moment. And a little bit more after that. Maybe just an extra smidge. And, a final just-a-sec-I’ll-be-right-there-as-soon-as-I’ve-finished-this-in-the-flashiest-of-flashes.
SO I BECAME DETERMINED TO KICK RUNNING’S ASS.
And was startled to find that when I didn’t have a fleet of freaking gazelles setting a punishing pace, I was able to actually to run in a way that wasn’t completely obliterating.
Shocked to discover that all those years of telling myself I simply wasn’t cut out to be a runner, I didn’t have it in me, I wasn’t capable-I was wrong.
MAYBE YOU’VE BEEN THERE. MAYBE YOU’RE THERE RIGHT NOW.
Feeling out of step, out of breath, off the pace.
Advised to do things that feel inherently wrong. Commanded to handle yourself and your work in a way that seems to go against your very nature. And it’s just not working for you. At ALL.
But when you look around, all you can see is the great heaving mass of people who seem to be getting along just dandy following this advice.
So maybe you’ve decided the problem is you.
You’re simply not cut out for this. It’s beyond you. You should probably just walk away.
Don’t do it.
Because running is hard. Really, really hard.
As is striking out on your own, crying adios to the status quo, putting yourself out into the world, and creating your own original business and life out of whole cloth. All incredibly hard.
And pulling it off is going to take everything you’ve got. All your skills and all your quirks. All of you. Pushing yourself spectacularly hard. Feeling strong, powerful, capable. Unhampered by a pack mentality that insists there is only one right way for you to make it happen.
(Yes, I may have mentioned this before.)
AS FOR ME?
I didn’t become a gazelle. I became something better. A koala who runs.
(I know, now you’ve got a visual, right?)
It didn’t come easily or naturally. It was hard fought. And is all the sweeter for it. Because it belongs to no one but me.
You have a choice.
You can keep trying to conform to the great heaving mass and always feel wrong. Perhaps they’ll even convince you to quit.
Or you can set your own pace, find your own path, and discover that you are indeed capable of amazing things you never thought possible.
SO TELL ME: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?