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Archive for February, 2014

I’m going to tell you a story.  It’s going to be a little personal and I’ll probably over share, and right in the middle you’ll be wondering why in the world I’m telling you this, but in the end, you’ll totally see how this is related to running.  I promise.

My road to a career in selling running shoes was a long and strange one.  I didn’t go to school for a business or management degree.  I got my Bachelor’s degree in English and Paralegal Studies.  I was interested in law and politics, and because I knew that if I had kids, I’d be a stay at home mom, the paralegal field just seemed like a job that would be a way station into my real, actual adulthood.

I got a job straight out of college (pre-recession, mind you) in the paralegal field and I couldn’t have been more miserable.  Go figure.  I hated my job.  I hated sitting at a desk.  I hated staring at a computer screen all day.  I hated only talking to people on the phone and never having much human interaction.  I didn’t have a window. Feeling of fulfillment: 0%.  I started gaining weight.  I thought it was just the type of law I was doing (personal injury) and not the career itself, so I started thinking about what could come next.  But the more I thought about how much better a different job would (of course) be, the more miserable I was at my current job.  I kept wanting to leave, but I just couldn’t make the leap.  I was laid off before I could leave on my own terms.  Which made me more miserable.  In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, but of course I didn’t realize that then.  And it always sucks to loose a job, no matter how much you hated it.

For several weeks after that day I sat around in my living room and watched t.v., moped, and ate.  I probably gained 10 pounds.  I refused to file for unemployment.  Finally, I got myself a job hawking electronics at an office supply store.  I liked the job and I was good at it.  But wouldn’t you know it – I was miserable.  I thought I should be doing something better with my life than “working retail.”  Again, the job was just a way station on to something better.

That “better” came in the form of grad school.  Looking back on it — not actually a better option.  Like many people my age during the recession, I went back to school because I didn’t have any real career prospects.  I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office any more, but that was all I knew about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Getting my Masters degree in English Language and Literature seemed like a good enough choice.  Theoretically, my MA should have given me the opportunity to teach undergrads entry level English, but nothing is as good as it seems in academia.  Job opportunities for people with M.A.’s are limited, and since I didn’t have the option to move, my job prospects amounted to absolutely zilch.

Again, miserable.  And also about 30 pounds heavier.  While I was in grad school I lived in Rochester, but my school was in Winona, about 40 minutes away.  Most of my classes were at night and I taught, tutored, and studied during the day.  Lacking options for lunch, dinner, and sometimes even breakfast, I usually stopped at McDonald’s on my way home in the evening.  That, combined with a complete and utter lack of exercise, tipped the scales in an ever easterly direction.

My next job also seemed like a good idea at the time.  And while I loved some moments of my job working as a advocate at the local Women’s Shelter, it was also stressful and horrible.  It made me miserable.  I gained more weight.  I stressed about my job when I was home, when I was in bed, when I went shopping, when I bought a car… every single moment of my life revolved around that job, because domestic violence is not limited to Monday through Friday 8-5. While I was once again having an internal battle with myself over my miserableness, I couldn’t make a change.  In the end, a difference of opinion with those in charge led to my being let go.

Over the previous four years I had been miserable every. single. second. And my body suffered because of it.  By the time I decided to do something about my weight, I had gained over 50 pounds.  And it wasn’t just my physical body that had suffered.  My mental health suffered too.  I was tired all the time, my anxiety went through the roof, and I felt like a failure.  I had to take drugs just so I could sleep at night.  I started taking an anti-depressant.

This time I applied for (and received) unemployment benefits, and I made the decision that this time, I was really going to take my time making a decision about what I wanted to do with my life, rather than just taking the first job that came along.  Before I left the shelter, I had trained and competed in my first triathlon.  The decision to finally do something about my poor health was a result of watching other people race.  But I had been waiting for that tipping point for at least four years.

With a little running experience behind me, and cashing in on my previous shoe sales experience (my first job was slinging shoes at Roagan’s and I met my husband while I was working at Foot Locker), I was hired as a sales associate at the Running Room.

That choice was supposed to be temporary.  I was terrified of someone from high school coming in to the store and saying, “Oh, so you just work in retail now?” or having to explain to my parents’ friends why I wasn’t doing anything with my degree.  Even though I was in better health than I had been in several years, I was still depressed.

But this is why: For years, I had been making decision for my life based on what I thought other people would expect from me.  I was supposed to have a “real” job where I made “real” money, a picket fence, a house, kids, a dog.  I didn’t think I could be happy until I could be proud of myself.  And I couldn’t be proud of myself because, in my mind, I was a failure.  A failure who couldn’t find a job, who had mountains of college debt, and several useless degrees to show for it. I spent so much time thinking about what other people thought of me, that I never stopped to really consider whether or not I was actually happy. I wanted to be happy, but only if I could have a traditional job, with a traditional house, and a traditional family, because that was what was expected.

But that was not what would make me happy.  It took me years to realize that.

I always thought I would have 2.5 kids because that’s what people do.  I always thought I would have some kind of desk job, because that’s what people who are middle-class and live in the suburbs do.  And when that wasn’t happening, it made me miserable.  But I wasn’t miserable because I was actually unhappy, I was miserable because my perspective was way off.

If I had just taken a moment, years ago, to really look at what I wanted to do and had the guts to make the changes that I knew I had to make, without worrying about what other people would think, I would have been so much better off.  But now you can learn from my mistakes.  I know I don’t want to have kids.  And while some people may think that’s the worst decision a woman could make, for me, it’s the right one.  I know I don’t like sitting at a desk.  I like working retail and I’m good at it.  I like meeting new people every day and inspiring other people to achieve an active lifestyle.  I like getting my hands dirty and hard work.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, is the answer.  Nothing is wrong with that.  That is me.

Four years ago I was trying to be a version of myself that wasn’t pure.  I was running at 30% me.  I was making myself unhappy.  It wasn’t as if people were actually coming up to me and disparaging my retail job.  I just imagined that they would.  30% Me was trying to be something to the world that didn’t actually exist.  So the 70% of me that I was hiding made me miserable.  Do you know how tiring it is to pretend to be someone else?

When I made the decision to be happy with the life and career that I had created, when I actually accepted what I wanted, and stopped worrying about what other people wanted, when I stopped trying to make other people happy by being someone else, that is when I truly found my happiness.

My life is so much better now.  If you think retail isn’t a “real” job, then you have never worked retail.  And if you are going to look down on me for having a retail job, then I think you’re the one with the problem, not me. I stopped worrying about trying to loose “enough” weight, and instead starting thinking about my over all health.  If people wanted to talk about my weight, then I felt sorry for them, because they didn’t have anything else to do than to criticize someone else.  I stopped looking at other people’s lives and wishing I was more like them, and instead started looking at my life and realizing how incredibly lucky I was.  I stopped worrying about what people would think about me being child-free by choice, and just decided that I DIDN’T CARE.

Really.  I know so many people right now who are so miserable in their lives.  They go to work and they are miserable.  They come home and they are miserable.  And I just want to yell at them, “Stop doing this to yourself! If you hate everything about your life, so change your life!” Some of these people don’t actually hate their lives, but they’ve fallen into the same trap that I did, worrying, worrying, worrying all the time, frustrated and complaining about how miserable they are, which just leads to them being more miserable.

I told you this all would relate to running, so let me bring you back to the main purpose of this blog.  Whatever you do in life, be 100% Pure You.  In your job, in your home life, with your kids, with your family… stop trying to be someone you aren’t.  The same is true of running.  People come in to the store all the time, disparaging themselves, worrying about how slow they are, or that they look funny running, or what they look like in their workout clothes.  These people are expending so much energy on worrying what other people will think of them, that they can’t just be happy with who they are.  Right now.  Today.

You can only run for half a block?  Good for you. That’s what you can do today.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Be 100% Pure You, in everything you do, and you will be so much happier, I promise.  Be the runner you were meant to be, not the runner you think you should be, or the runner you think other people think you should be (see how exhausting that is?).

That is not to say that there is not always room for improvement.  But rather than focusing on what needs to improve, focus on today, focus on now.  Plan for the future, but if that future doesn’t pan out, your life is not over — make a new plan.  Be happy today, with who you are today.  Be 100% Pure You.  And if someone in your life can’t handle it, remember that is not because of you, it is because them.  They are the ones who don’t want to see the real you. So if your running buddies make fun of you when you have a rough day, look for new running buddies.  If you struggle time and time again with the half marathon distance, stop trying to be the runner you think you should be and focus on a new distance.  If you can’t do speed work, embrace the long slow run and do a marathon.  Run because you like it, not because you think you should like it, or because other people expect something out of you.  Run because you like the feel of the wind on your face, and the crunch of the gravel under your feet, and the sound of your breath struggling in your chest because that means you are a warrior. Run for you, not for someone else.

If you are 100% Pure You, you will be 100% happier, because you are no longer expending half of your energy on being someone else. Take a step back from your life and gain some perspective and when you jump back in, be who and what you were meant to be.  Trust me.

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