When the path ahead isn’t clear

Sunday afternoon. I’d just tripped over some barbed wire and I was pissed. Who was I kidding? I’d been pissy for the last two kilometres. My legs were heavy, my shoulders tight, my breathing shallow. The bugs were bothering me. My shorts were bothering me. The roots on the trails were bothering me. And to top it all off, I didn’t know where the hell this trail would take me.

But wait… I love exploring new places. Route finding and adventuring is my jam. So why was I so damn grumpy about not having a map or blazed trails? 

I bumbled along and then it hit me: my mood had nothing to do with the actual path I was on. I was anxious because the feeling of being lost and turned around and ‘not sure where to go next’ had nothing to do with the run and everything to do with the stresses playing out off the trails.

A few months ago I left my job to go back to freelance writing. I’ve been doing ok, but I’ve been playing it safe. I haven’t yet permitted myself to follow a newish path. I look at the direction I want to go, or think I want to go, and I’m not doing work that aligns with that trajectory. But then I start second-guessing whether I actually want to follow that path or if I’m just looking at the proverbial greener grass. 

I truly believe we have only one wild and precious life. (Thanks, Mary Oliver) But then I get caught up in the thinking that forging new paths is for people with more financial stability, more experience, more tenacity, more energy, more courage…

Ah, there it is. Those “mores” are all excuses for the real issue: fear, but not fear of trying, but fear of failing (whatever that is). Couple that all sorts of feelings of not being good enough or worthy of success (that old yawnfest, ‘Why try when it’s not going to work out anyway?’) and it’s a wonder I made it to the trails at all rather than just stayed at home on the couch.

“I have learned that there is no failure in running, or in life, as long as you keep moving. It’s not about speed and gold medals. It’s about refusing to be stopped. You might find that one particular direction proves difficult, but there are many directions on a compass. Infinite, in fact. As long as you keep searching, you’ll find your winning way,” writes Amby Burfoot in his 2007 “The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life: What 35 Years of Running Has Taught Me about Winning, Losing, Happiness, Humility, and the Human Heart.”

You don’t build a running practise by sitting on the couch (or at your desk) thinking about it. You just do it. Sure, you might read books or take a clinic, but the real learning is in the doing. Some runs are good, others not so much. But it’s all experience — you know, the “best teacher.” You don’t wait until the conditions are perfect, or you have built up your cardio capacity to run 15km at ease: you start where you begin and learn along the way. 

When I let go of needing to know where the trail was going to end up, there was great freedom in the experience of being in the woods. (And a LOT of fun.) It was still hard work, but that’s where the confidence-building lives.

As for work? I don’t need to have my path all mapped out before I begin. I just need to put one foot in front of the other. And refuse to stop moving.

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