“We can’t get you on any flights out of New Hampshire until Sunday.”
These were the unfortunate words that came through the phone this past Thursday. My coworker, Latrell, and I were stuck. But an interesting thing happened in that three day layover; I actually became unstuck. Let me tell you what I mean.
The idea of being stuck implies that you have somewhere to go. This is what makes being immobile so infuriating. Think about the times you’ve used the word.
Stuck in traffic.
Stuck in the grocery store.
Stuck on a project.
The inability to move forward can be annoying, tiring, and stressful. So what did I learn from being stuck on the East Coast for three days?
The Space Between the Notes
Latrell and I weighed our options and decided to drive to Boston and spend the weekend with several of his friends. We had a blast. I experienced all-you-can-eat sushi, enjoyed Faneuil Hall, even saw the pub from my favorite movie, Good Will Hunting.
And this was while I was supposed to be “stuck.”
While not every bad experience has this type of silver lining, there are times when getting stuck is exactly what we need.
The speed of life is fast. Everyone is busy, and being unable to have things our way will always be frustrating.
But sometimes we just need to stop. We need to experience a seemingly immobilizing challenge, and through this challenge, realize that just because we aren’t moving the way we planned doesn’t mean we aren’t moving at all.
As Claude Debussy said,
“Music is the space between the notes.”
I think life is the space between the routine.
On Sunday, February 2nd, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I ran my second marathon. Oddly enough, this is after I had vowed, sworn, and promised I would never run a marathon again (this is a promise I’m glad I didn’t keep).
The hours spent on a marathon course provide a great opportunity for reflection. While I learned a great deal from my first marathon (which I ran in Greece), this marathon provided a different set of takeaways about comfort zones, continuous improvement, and determination.
Comfort Zones Can Grow
My first marathon was painful. When I arrived on race day, I asked another runner if the course was a difficult one. I’ll never forget his response,
“Well, the good news is there is only one hill. The bad news is it is from mile 10 to mile 19.”
I’ll never forget the feeling of my legs cramping up at mile 18 of that marathon (this was when I started thinking I would never run another one). I’ll never forget trudging toward the finish line for the next hour and a half. I will also never forget just how sore I was for the entire next week.
In an exciting turn of events, absolutely none of these staples of my first marathon were present during my second one. I didn’t cramp up, I finished strong, and two days after the race I felt like I should be jogging again.
Many people will tell you to step outside of your comfort zone, but doing this doesn’t mean much if you’re going to step right back into that zone. The purpose of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is most beneficial when it actually expands that individual’s zone.
Your comfort zone can grow, and your new experiences can lead you to great discoveries about yourself. Don’t just jump back into your comfort zone at the first sign of an awkward, strange, or (beneficially) painful experience.
You may just find that your future journeys are enriched because of the steps you’re taking right now.
Continuous Improvement is a Real Thing
Running is similar to racing your ghost in Mario Kart (old-school reference). Everyone wants to do better than they did the time before. I definitely didn’t want to run slower than I did the first time around.
I set three levels of goals for my second marathon; these were my red light, yellow light, and green light goals. The red light goal was the time I absolutely needed to be under to feel like I’ve accomplished anything at all (this target was equivalent to my time in my first marathon). The yellow light target was a half hour faster than the red, and the green light target was a half hour faster than the yellow.
My official time was three minutes below my green light target. I had run my second marathon almost an hour faster than my first! Not only was I ecstatic about this outcome, I think I walked away with a different perspective on improvement.
Too many people get hung up on the idea that they are not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or fast enough. The issue is that people are comparing themselves to unattainable ideals, instead of focusing on being the best version of themselves they can be.
So outdo yourself, not because you’ll become a celebrity or the fastest runner in the world, but because doing something above and beyond what you’ve previously accomplished is intrinsically uplifting.
You may just find you can accomplish more than you ever thought you would.
The Power of Nervous Confidence
Every marathon runner I’ve ever met has had nervous confidence. Let me briefly explain what I mean by that.
My friend, Dan, has run over 20 marathons, and while in New Orleans, Dan introduced me to Eddie Vega, who is attempting to break the Guinness World Record for most barefoot marathons in one year (I actually signed the form verifying that he ran the New Orleans marathon shoeless).
When talking to Eddie prior to the race, he said things like, “My heels are a little tender today; I’m not sure how it’s going to go.”
This is a guy who has run hundreds of marathons, he did the first 8 miles of a marathon in Antarctica without shoes, and he’s nervous about a flat marathon on a calm day in New Orleans?
This is what I mean by nervous confidence. Eddie knew he would finish the race, but he didn’t allow himself to underestimate the task in front of him.
Nervous confidence is about being realistic and optimistic at the same time. It is about knowing and understanding the difficulties in what lies ahead, and approaching those difficulties with an uncompromising commitment to reaching predetermined results.
So approach life with nervous confidence.
You may just find that uncertainty and certainty are not so different after all.