Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hello, Joan. It's So Nice To See You Again!

Family time. Traveling. Basketball. Baking. Photography. Science. Running. Reading. These activities fill my heart, fuel my spirit, keep me grounded, make me a better professional, and guide me to becoming a better person. But that last one—reading—has only recently been added to my personal "hobbies and interests" list. My husband jokes that I've become "smarter" in the last 6 months, ever since he got me a Kindle. And I agree! I'm making connections, seeing my environment and feeling my experiences at a whole new level. 

Life is a series of changes, phases. As we live, we grow (or so we hope). Our experiences can be a major life event, such as finding your first love, beating an illness, moving, having children, losing a loved one, or living in a different country, etc. And other times, it can be more subtle, like taking a class, changing jobs or reading a book. Something touches you deep inside; you’re forced to stand up and take notice. I’m going through one of those moments right now, and I want to celebrate! And it all has to do with reading.

Over the last forty years, I have read a few books that have been life changing and/or life affirming. And as I think about them today—thanks to me being smarter, and all—I've made yet another connection. I realize they all had something to do with finding comfort and joy with who I am. The latest book, Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, really got me reflecting...

I was a skinny (bony), red-headed, fair skinned, freckled, tomboy, completely indifferent about my physical appearance. (Comb my hair? Only if you can catch me!) I was bossy, confident, defensive, abrasive, determined, antsy, and fast. Really fast. (Nickname? Roadrunner. Although, I felt more like Wile E. Coyote, at times.) Ninety percent of my childhood was spent outdoors or on a basketball court. When I was forced to stop and eat, I found that interruption to my neighborhood exploration incredibly annoying. But above all, I was carefree and happy. I woke up energized. I went to bed satisfied. I dreamt with excitement and curiosity about what the next day’s adventures would be.

But as I got older, I started to feel more vulnerable, less secure with the reflection in the mirror. The very things that made me who I was were the things that others used to tease me with. Red hair apparently made me alien-like to some, even though it was normal in my family. ("Redheads can't be pretty.") A boyish figure and competitive nature allowed me to be speedy. Being "undeveloped" and athletic put me on the receiving end of notes from other kids asking, "So are you a boy or a girl?" Etc. No pity, please. EVERYONE gets teased as a child. I got through it just fine. In fact, it's the chicken and the egg scenario. Was my behavior a defense from theirs, or was theirs a defense from mine? Likely, a lot of both.

So, like most tomboys, I began to want to be more "girl-like." Mine was a slow transition through high school and college. I started to tip the scale from more athletic and outdoor activities, to more co-ed social events. And, of course, I fell in love. A few times. And as many women know, we tend to only focus on the happiness we feel when in the presence of our significant other when that happens. So we naturally lose the focus of what makes us happy as an individual. And at some point, in becoming a woman, I think I lost a bit of what really fueled my own personal spirit. (The things that likely made those others fall in love with me in the first place!)

Over the past two years, I've been allowing the fulcrum to tip the scale back to where it belongs. I've worked out more. I've explored the outdoors regularly. In fact, I’m at lunch today, alone, outside, people-watching, writing this, and loving this 50 minutes of time to myself! And I feel like all parts of me are coming together thanks to this reconnection with this one part of what makes me me—physical play. Wife. Mother. Sister. Daughter. Friend. Educator, Etc. I am happier in these roles every time I take the time to be myself, doing something outside and physical.

And I realize this because of the book Born To Run. I cannot TELL you how this book resonated with me. I feel like I've come full circle. I feel good about being my perfect balance of “tomboy” and “girl-like,” if that makes sense to anyone.

This book is difficult to describe. Some reviewers focus on the fact that we are evolutionarily runners by nature. Some discuss that running barefoot is better for you. Some talk about ultramarathoning. And still others write about the Tarahumara and their way of life. What captured me was the focus on life-style. When people run—not for a race or a purpose, but for play—they smile. There's a connection between youth and freedom and happiness that made sense to me. Quotes like the following jumped out at me. Absent context, though, I'm not sure their meaning is there... "[He] couldn't quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running..." "You don't stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running." "It wasn't Arnulfo's [A Tarahumara] and Scott's [An American] matching form so much as their matching smiles..." They loved to run. They loved to run together.

My parents gave me such good advice when I was young. “To be happy, all you need to do is keep a balance in life.” But, they never told me what that balance is, or that each person’s balance is different. Took me a while, but I honestly think I’ve figured mine out.

Some people need to spend the time to reconnect with a piece of who they were in their childhood and fuse it with who they are now, based on their adult life experiences, in order to be happy. Others may need to find that balance for the first time because perhaps they never felt what I felt as a child. But it’s worth experimenting. Every aspect of life really comes alive, feels tingly, makes your heart sing, when you do.

I feel happy being me again. My center is running. My center requires running. Not running a race. Not running a specific distance. Just running around. A new path each time. I’m not the same me I was at age 12. I don’t want to be. (Who does?!) But I’m 44 and I feel like me more than I have at any other time since college. Who we are in fact is the culmination of our life experiences. Which means, since I have a lot of life left (I hope), I am still becoming. But I have those familiar feelings of waking up energized, going to bed satisfied, and dreaming about what the next adventure will be.

Thank you, Christopher McDougall, Tarahumara, and Caballo Blanco. Wouldn’t have put this together without you.

To Balance. Whatever that means for you. Cheers!