This Saturday is my 29th birthday.
For as long as I can remember, my past birthdays have been met with excitement and anticipation. This one feels a little different. I’m still happy, but my mood is more mellow. More reflective and thoughtful.
A few days ago I completed my first ultra in celebration of my birth month and qualified for the Marathon Maniacs. Usually after a race, I experience a period of reflection where I determine my next set of goals and decide on future races. I have been doing that, but on a larger scale. I feel I can now set goals not only for running, but for my life.
I felt Steve Jobs eloquently expressed all of my randomly floating thoughts.
Here’s the video:
(Direct Youtube link HERE)
Jobs talks about connecting the dots in your life. “Trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.” As I look back at these last 29 years, I see a lot of random and meaningless dots that are only now starting to make sense.
I always wondered why my life seemed to be so much harder than everyone else’s. Everything seemed like an uphill struggle for me and I was prone to feeling sorry for myself. I now know that every obstacle I’ve encountered has made me who I am today. Strong. Resilient. And I’ve learned to be grateful for it.
This birthday will be the first year that I don’t ask for a single present. Instead I am making a promise to myself: To never again feel victimized by my past. My experiences weren’t handicaps. They were trials. And I’m connecting my dots.
Here are some examples:
In the past, I’ve complained about having an overprotective dad. I wasn’t allowed to do anything. No sleepovers. No friends. No dances. No after school activities. I spent most of my childhood alone and for a long time I was bitter that my dad had stunted my social growth.
But his upbringing taught me to be alone. To find contentment and happiness in complete solitude. I had time to read and write and learn. Or I would go outside and explore. My imagination took on a life of its own, and there’s no point experiencing life without a great imagination. Above all, I am comfortable in my own skin and in my own company.
Today, although I have friends, I don’t need to be surrounded by people to be happy. Some of my greatest thoughts are still birthed in solitude. And I crave those long, lonely runs through the forest. Mentally, it has made me a stronger runner. I can be alone yet never feel sad. And I can embrace solitude with a unique affection.
In all my childhood, I don’t remember having food in my fridge. I was always hungry. I remember stealing food from church donation bins, or stuffing cookies in my pockets for later. I remember opening unmarked metal cans and eating whatever was in it raw – sometimes tomato sauce and sometimes plain, salty broth.
Food was short. And then I got older. I worked for a year out of high school to pay for my first year of university tuition and books, but I still didn’t have enough for food. So I would go to political volunteer meetings where I knew there would be free pizza. At my lowest, I wandered through the university cafeteria and chewed on scraps that people had left behind. Pizza crusts and leftover fries. My weight fluctuated constantly.
These were dark times, but they shaped my love and appreciation for food. When people ask me why I became a nutritionist, I’m sometimes reluctant to tell them. Because this is why. Food was always something I aspired to. Something I always loved. Now every time I eat, or cook, or shop, I do so with tremendous gratitude. I feel that as a nutritionist, I am unique. I know the value of food because I know what it means to be without.
After my partner’s accident I was forced to drop out of school. I was helping him with his expenses while he was in the hospital, and I had nothing to spare. Although I spent most of my time by his side, I had no outside support. Many thought that his accident was my fault – and told me so. My dad would come to the hospital to lash verbal abuse on me in the waiting rooms. I felt abandoned.
But it was under this extreme stress that I started to run. Not to stay fit or lose weight. It was just a raw, primal drive to run. I didn’t even know where I was going half the time. I just knew that I had to get away.
It was more like running away, really. I’d run hard and long and I didn’t always know whether I’d come home. But at some point during my run, my problems would seem to dissipate. I would come up with a new idea or get a second wind. My life wouldn’t seem so impossible anymore, so I’d turn around and run back.
I did this for months. No running gear, no water, no Garmins. In a state of fight or flight, I chose flight. Stress taught me to run. It taught me to love running. To embrace it. And to let it heal all my wounds.
It wasn’t until running my first ultra that I started connecting these dots. And I’ve finally come to the realization – there is nothing I cannot do. Despite my past, I am not disadvantaged. I am not poor. I am not handicapped.
I still have new dots that I’d like to connect in my future. New goals that I don’t talk about often because I know they’re lofty. I used to fear that people weren’t going to believe in me. But I’ve learned that people believe in what they can see. After you’ve proven yourself, that’s when people believe in you. Before that, you must believe in yourself. Follow what you love relentlessly and never settle.
Steve Jobs finishes his speech with the following advice:
“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
I am both. So I think I’m on the right track.