Scared but Not Paralyzed

Posted on June 12, 2012

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Last week, Caryn and I were able to sneak in a mid-week dinner with some friends. It was a pleasant meal at a Mediterranean restaurant that none of us had tried before. I could have done without the ‘live music’ consisting of an electric violin playing along to karaoke tracks with a slightly Middle Eastern interpretation. Even so, since the place was in a strip mall, even this added to the evening.

In the course of events, I was asked how my training was going for my upcoming 50 mile run. I talked briefly about extending my runs, small injuries, and my attitude (I try not to go on too long because I realize not everyone is as interested in the physiologic adaptation process when increasing distances). But my friend Sara asked, “What’s your backup plan? Are you concerned you won’t be able to do it?” A fair question, but in the moment, not one I gave my full consideration.

My immediate answer was that I was on track with my training plan and that if I continued to stay healthy and injury free, if I continued to progress through the training runs I had laid out, I would be able to finish the race. I have been running most of my life and am in tune to my body’s capabilities. In short, I responded to her question with confidence that bordered on certainty.

With a little reflection I knew that the truth is a little more frightening.

Yes, I am following what I believe to be a good training plan. And yes, I know my body’s abilities and limits. I am researching and studying and learning from those who are more experienced ultra-marathoners than I am. But the truth is this: There is a very real possibility that I will not finish this race. This could happen because of poor weather conditions, poorly executed race-day strategy, sickness, mental weakness, or twisting an ankle in the first mile of the race.

Granted, there is a psychological advantage for ignoring the possibility of complete and undeniable failure. To train for an ultra-marathon, I need to believe that it is possible. Confidence breeds success. That said, I have read too many stories of people who were fit and trained, but who were not able to finish a race because of any of the above reasons. However confident I may be, I know I am not exempt from the statistical fact that a certain number of people, some well-prepared and some ill-prepared, will not finish this race.

To return to the question I was asked over the squeaky violin version of My Heart Will Go On, “What’s your backup plan? Are you concerned you won’t be able to do it?”

Yes I am concerned I won’t be able to do it. But it is not enough of a worry to stop me from trying it.

And this point is where I love living. That place where I am attempting something big and crazy. Something I have never done before; a journey into the unknown. And it doesn’t need to be about running. I am going to teach a class this fall that feels like a big deal. I haven’t done it before and there is no guarantee of success. I’m taking on new responsibilities at work and I don’t know if I’ll be up to the challenges that come with the role. I’ve written novels that may never be published.

Yet I hope the possibility of failure never stops me (or you) from trying something for the first or thousandth time. Unless failure could result in long-term damage, such as trying something far beyond your skill set. (For example, I am not going to open my own restaurant. I am not going to jump a dirt bike over a row of cars. I am not going to juggle flaming knives. I have no experience or skills that translate into these areas. These would be an almost certain failure that would affect my family, finances, and my perhaps my health.)

But when the biggest possible failures are stepping off a trail and accepting a DNF (Did Not Finish) or learning that you don’t like teaching as much as you though you would, or that you’re not particularly suited for a line of work, or just a general sense of embarrassment at not being great at everything you try, well those risks are, in my book, the ones worth taking. They are the ones that make life worth living.

This principle is in play when it comes to seeking after God too. To me, this is the essence of faith. A willingness to follow the way of Christ, even though you might fail in some serious ways; even though things may not turn out exactly as you had planned. I could go on in a critical vein and point out the similarities between my original attitude toward my training and the attitude of many Christians toward their own salvation. But don’t want to leave you on a bitter note today. Life is too sweet. Please, don’t let fear stop you from living an amazing life.

Photo: andyarthur

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