I just got home from taking my oldest daughter and her friends to the junior high school to get their lockers and schedules for the upcoming school year. As most of my friends know, I used to teach high school English. Before that I was an adjunct professor at SUU where I taught writing. From the time I was 10 I thought I’d forever be an English teacher. I toyed with a few other professions, but I don’t think I ever seriously considered them. I certainly NEVER thought I’d be a fitness instructor. As far as sports were concerned, I didn’t play any. I wasn’t physically capable of much, I thought.
Of course now I know we are complex, multi-dimensional beings. We don’t fit neatly into a category or box, nor should we. You can be smart and athletic. You can be musical and scientific. You can be funny and serious. I can study and appreciate Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and be thoroughly entertained watching “Big Brother”. That’s what makes us interesting.
As my kids start to feel out who they are, and who they want to be, I remind them of my dueling personalities. They can be whoever they want. And whoever they want to be will change. This article from 2013 touches on that. Keep reading for more.
Twenty years ago I sat in Mrs. Stewart’s English class with my friends trying to imagine what our lives would be like when we reunited for our 20th reunion. Some pictured big families. Some pictured living in exotic locations with exciting jobs. I pictured… nothing.
At seventeen, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a corporate bigwig or a mom to ten kids. Both of those options seem so out of character now that I can’t help but laugh at their seeming possibility then. The late teens and early twenties are a time of self-discovery. And while I didn’t backpack through Europe to find myself (my meager salary from Taste of Chicago made sure that didn’t happen), I certainly did uncover parts of myself that were both surprising and wonderful.
Experience taught me I hate cooking. I’m terrible at sewing. Gardening is an art beyond my skill set. Teaching is my call, but not in the way I expected.
But the biggest discoveries came through running. For many years I allowed myself to be pigeon-holed. I wrongly believed that because I wasn’t terribly good at team sports, athletics would never play a role in my life.
Then I had kids. Motherhood was a shock to me. There were no internet blogs or websites to warn me of the challenges I would face as a mom. With very little experience outside of babysitting during middle school, I found myself floundering to find solid footing. I was falling short of impossibly high, self-imposed standards. Stressed, isolated and even a little depressed I turned to running.
Part of me wanted my pre-baby body back. Part of me needed alone time. But the biggest part of me was just trying to figure out how to cope with the unknowns of life.
I can’t explain why I thought running would help. There was no master plan, no pre-conceived course of action that promised running as a cure-all for my many ills. I just felt drawn to the physical exertion and the connection with nature running offered. I craved listening to the sound of my feet and my own heavy breathing. I craved the immediate sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every run.
And so it began with a single run. It was short. It was slow. I loved it.
I ran away from the insecurity that plagued me during my teens. I ran away from the fear I had of my future. I ran away from the distaste I had for my physical body.
I ran toward confidence. I ran toward peace. I ran toward joy. I ran toward acceptance and eventually gratitude for the body I once resented.
I don’t know that I would say running changed me as much as it uncovered a part of me I never knew existed. The inner athlete was there all along. It just took a little longer for me to find her.
While I loved reminiscing with old friends delving into my dusty CD collection, I’m happy to put the past behind me. My glory days are still ahead and I’m running toward them as fast as I can.