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resilience at the treadmill

20 Feb

Newest epiphany: resilience, like optimism and happiness, is not as one-dimensional as I’ve been led to believe. At its core, resilience is about doing what you know must be done, no matter what the world throws at you. You do resilience, you don’t have it. My epiphany came at the treadmill, when I concluded that I was doing one version of resilience: I was overcoming.

Running falls into two buckets: treadmill or field. The treadmill equals the gym, surrounded by other treadmills, TVs, people, and cheesy 90’s dance hits that are supposed to make you maximize your pumpage (term is patent pending). The field typically involves the outdoors, maybe a lake or some hills. It’s just you and the open path.

Running, though, is not running is not running. Ask a life-long runner and she will tell you that a myriad of things distinguish running on a treadmill and on the field: wind, floor/ground bounce/stability/flatness, posture, obstacles, etc. This covers the mechanics, but the inertia part is what fascinates me most. These two approaches to the same activity embody their own attitude, and I believe, their own sort of resilience.

There are two types of resilience. One involves pressing forward during trying times; shit happens and you need got to do it despite of the circumstances. The other occurs when things are fine, but you seek more. The former is in play when your car breaks down right before an interview, the latter when you decide you would love to learn French. Both forms of resilience are hard to achieve and much harder to maintain (resilience is mostly measure by its self-sustaining energy). But the difference lies where they start and what keeps them alive.

The treadmill, I believe, symbolizes an external impetus. You turn it on and you better get moving, otherwise your face will meet a hard object soon. You also have an audience that is very quietly judging you. Your skill and success or defeat are not just for you alone, but for everyone else there. But you also have the option of giving up, turning off the treadmill, and stepping back to where you first began. The quitting element is easy to do, and probably easy to justify considering the circumstances.

The field, on the other hand, is all you. It’s all internal ignition. You decide to run around the park, no external force makes you keep that promise. You are also more likely to be alone, so there’s no one else to push you, or judge you (which actually may be its own sort of pushing), just your own motivation. If you decide to quit, you can do so, just like with the treadmill, and it might be even easier because you are not held accountable to anyone.

I have tried to make myself a field runner. I know that it’s better for you, more freeing, more relaxing, and can actually be more fun and gratifying. But it’s hard. I start, feel good, and all of a sudden I lose that push. I probably fool myself in believing I don’t need this, even though I know that in nearly all previous runs I feel great afterwards. So then I start shuffling my way back. This never happens to me when I am on the treadmill. I feel compelled to run and sweat and give it my all. People are noticing my performance, the treadmill is unforgiving, and my momentum is sort of something I am being dragged by, not something I am pushing forth. I need to run. Survival is at stake here.

A questionnaire on let me know what to call theses attitudes. It turns out I am very good at overcoming crises, and not letting them take over my life. This revelation is in line with my treadmill epiphany. I can run when I feel I need to run, when my survival instincts kick in; it’s harder for me to run when I want to run for the fun of it. My resiliency appears when I have to react to life’s battles, not so much when I decide to embark on something that feels like a nice-to-have. I am convinced that if I try a little harder at expanding what I believe to be ‘necessary,’ to include more fun and self-motivated things, I will be a little bit better at tapping the other type of resilience. At the very least, it will help me stick to my run around the park.


the white tuxedo

21 Jun

A small beach town in northern Mexico is a dream vacation for many: sun, tacos, and chill. I was there, but as a native. My first encounters with the much storied young American male were over various Spring Breaks, and many-a beer bottles they hurdled into traffic. It was my life for nearly 18 years. Then, one day, I decided to ditch it for a lovely town 50 miles west of Chicago. Rosarito for Rockford. What a deal.


I got up one morning, surrounded by my family, friends, and authentic food, and woke up a few days later surrounded by a Hilander and a cineplex. In Rosarito life was just today; tomorrow would sorta make sense, maybe, not really. My friends there were great but also a bunch of downers. Their dreams mainly revolved around following their father’s footsteps into butchery, or striving for community college before ever even considering a 4-year just a few miles north. Rosarito was great…for them.


At 17 years old I decided to make it on my own: I got my own place, worked for the man, and paved my way through high school and then college. When people ask me the Whys of that move, I kinda don’t know anymore. All I know is that shying away from this would’ve haunted me forever.


Conan O’Brien may be many things (hilarious/incisive/somewhat obsessed with vulgar animals), but one thing he most definitely is not is a complainer. Not once have I heard him nag or whine over the middle finger NBC gave him. Not once have I heard him nag or whine over the unorthodox and rough path he took to get where he is now.  Some choice quotes:


“You parents must be patient because it is indeed a grim job market out there. And one of the reasons that it’s so tough finding work is that aging baby boomers refuse to leave their jobs…Trust me on this.”


“Nietzsche famously said ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”’ But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you. Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting.”


“[L]ife and the choices I made have changed me in a thousand ways. None of it would have happened if I had rigidly kept my eyes on the prize and decided with great determination to follow my dream, because I didn’t have the slightest idea what my dream was when I was 18. It had to find me.”


My favorite might be his “white tuxedo” metaphor:


“[S]uccess is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way. I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.”


(Plenty more of these here.)


My white tuxedo was comfort disguised as success. Staying in Rosarito, sipping margaritas on the beach, and working as the junior manager at the local licoreria could definitely be someone’s version of success. Not mine. I didn’t know what to expect when moving away from things I knew and loved, but I knew what to expect if I stayed. I would’ve had a great tuxedo, but stashed somewhere deep in the closet, away from the real world and its messiness. It would’ve been a waste of damn good cloth. Thankfully, I reminded myself dirt can come off, and tears can be repaired.



new failures

25 May

Most of our failures are old ones. We get hurt after doing that thing…again and again. We get depressed after eating that thing …again and again. We spread ourselves too thin…again and again.


Failure is fine. It lets us know we’re at least doing something. As the old military adage goes, anything is better than inaction. If we stay still we die as a curious and vibrant creature. Hitting a plateau is a soul-crushing feeling. Imagine you are in the middle of a flat, indistinguishable, and suffocating desert. Yep, that’s a plateau.


Take active living a step further: find new things to screw up on. Try out a new organization method, try out surfing, try out beef jerky ice cream. You will collect better stories to share, advice to pass on, and tips to learn. Your life wont be a desert, but an intriguing jungle.


Try new things, and fail at new things. Or, to your surprise, maybe you actually succeed. How about that.



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