How to Spring Clean Your Second Wave Shit

Everyone has experienced Second Wave Shit. Here is the official scholarly definition from a very reliable source:

Runners know all about Second Wave Shit. It can hit at any time.

You get up early for a race, take your dump, and wouldn’t you know it—at the start line you feel the urge to shit again. This is Second Wave Shit. It sucks.

You thought you got it all. You crossed it off your list. You’ve moved on. But dammit that shit is still in there.

Similarly, this is the time of year when thousands of people immerse themselves in spring cleaning. They do some organizing, throw out some clutter, and maybe get a haircut. Then they sit back and feel good about themselves for improving their lives.

But there’s still a lot of Second Wave Shit lying around. They didn’t get it all. Life still stinks.

As the years go by, our Second Wave Shit just sits there. Festering and poisoning us from the inside.

Every year, I’ve tried to tackle my own Second Wave Shit a little more aggressively. This year, I’ve gone all out and declared war on that crap.

If you’re serious about making a fresh start this spring and you don’t mind getting a little dirty, join me and tackle the Second Wave Shit in your life.

Here’s how:

3 Second Wave Shits to Ditch Immediately

1. 10-Year Success Plans

Also trash those five-year plans, 20-year plans, or three-year plans. Although this sounds like the opposite of what you should be doing to move ahead, plans like these have held me back.

My parents were big on five-year plans. I made my first five-year plan when I was 16 years old. “What’s on your five-year plan?” my dad would ask. And I’d recite the perfect life.

Do you know what a 16-year-old knows about their next five years? A big fat nada.

I would go on to make 10-year plans, 20-year plans, even one-year plans. In my head, I had it all planned out. I’d have all my babies before age 30, I’d be happily married, and in my plan I was never a runner.

Then life happened.

I got divorced. I realized I didn’t want kids. I learned that I loved running. I wanted new friends. A change of scenery. I wanted to move. I wanted to travel. I couldn’t find a job. None of these things fit into my plan.

Year-by-year plans have limited me in three major ways:

a. Yearly plans make it easy to postpone what you really want.

You really want to travel, so you put it on your 10-year plan, along with a few other things:

  • SOMEDAY I’ll write a book.
  • SOMEDAY I’ll hike the Appalachian.
  • SOMEDAY I’ll train for an ultra marathon.
  • SOMEDAY I’ll start my own business.

You feel good about yourself because you put it on the plan. That means something, right? Then 10 years down the road you’re still living the same shit-ass life, working at the same shit-ass job. Fuck that.

How about:

  • Rip up your 10-year plan and use it as toilet paper.
  • Then make a To Do List.

Not for ten years. Not for five years. Not for one year. For today. For right now. For immediately.

b. Yearly plans give you a false sense of control.

You think you can control what happens in your life? You’re lucky you didn’t get hit by a car this morning. You know nothing and you control nothing.

Maybe you’ll have a kid with special needs. Not in the plan? Maybe you’ll lose your job or the market will  crash. Not in the plan?

Life happens and will continue to happen. Instead of learning joy, contentment, and most importantly—flexibility, yearly plans drive you to force something that might not be in the cards for you. Everything happens for a reason. So roll with it.

c. Yearly plans give you a false sense of guilt and failure.

When your plan doesn’t go perfectly (and it won’t), it opens the door to feelings of guilt, or worse—failure. Even though you never had control, you feel as though you fucked up. Why couldn’t you find a partner in time? Why didn’t you have kids fast enough? Why aren’t in that house? In that car? At that job?

You wonder if it’s because you suck. You’re not good enough. You didn’t deserve it. You’re lazy. You didn’t work hard. You made stupid decisions. But these are all ideas that exist only in your head. They should never taint your self-esteem or your future decisions.

You may be on a different path, and that’s OK. Maybe you’re on a better path. Maybe… you’re exactly where you need to be.

What’s on your 10-year plan? That’s Second Wave Shit.

2. Paralyzing Fears

These are fears so big that you don’t even realize you have them. You don’t talk about them, because they’re not even real to you. Basically, these are the things that you KNOW you could never do. There’s no chance in hell.

And you’re right—because your fear has paralyzed the possibility.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I could never run 100 miles.” And just like that, your fate is sealed. Paralyzed. That’s now something you will never do.

Or it could be other things:

  • “I will never be happy in my marriage.”
  • “I will never fit in.”
  • “I will never see the world.”

But… what if you stopped believing you couldn’t? What if you MIGHT? What if… you could?

What’s your paralyzing fear? That’s Second Wave Shit.

3. Unused Possessions

Skip the pathetic spring cleaning of organizing cupboards and donating a single box of clothes. Walk through your house and take out EVERYTHING you have not used in the past 12 months.

Holding stuff in storage? Clean it out. What if you need it someday? You won’t.

We are so attached to our possession. Too often, they own us. They add to our stress and drain our time. They also play on our fears and force us to think in “what ifs”:

  • What if this comes back in style?
  • What if my kids can use this in the future?
  • What if this becomes valuable?

(Hint: Your kids won’t want any of your old crap. It’s old people’s crap.)

If you are not using something in the moment, there is absolutely no reason to give it space in your home. No exceptions. Give it away to someone who will actually use it.

When we store things, they rot from misuse and we rot from hoarding them.

This is not thrifty. This is not frugal. This is not healthy. And guess what: This is not how happy people live. There’s a reason the most joyful people on Earth own nothing. It’s because they’re free.

Doing a hardcore cleanout is one of the most cathartic things I have ever experienced. It feels like you have a new life. New space. Room to breathe.

It also teaches you to let go. To live in the moment, and not worry about what might possibly happen under this obscure condition, or in case of that small chance. Remember, you control nothing. So you can’t prepare for it.

What possessions are collecting dust and space in your home? That’s Second Wave Shit.

How I’ve Spring Cleaned My Second Wave Shit and Started Living Life

I know it’s easy to say these things, but insanely hard to put them into practice. I get it. This is not a spring cleaning for everyone, and not everybody will be ready for it.

It’s scary as hell and it leaves you feeling helpless—like maybe you’ll end up homeless and on the street and nobody will love you. But change is possible. And BETTER. It’s not as devastating as you think.

Here are three things I’ve done in my life that scared me shitless. My intention is to show that:

a. Anyone can do it. I’m not a superhero; I’m a regular person. If I did it, so can you.

b. Sometimes people write off what I’ve accomplished and think, “Oh, it’s because she’s so brave and strong. Not like me.”

But I wasn’t always brave and strong. THESE are the things that made me that way.

You don’t make a change because you are brave. You make a change, and then you are braver. You take a risk, and then you are strong.

My three things to inspire you:

1. I got divorced.

Following my original 10-year plan, I got married early in my 20s and planned for kids. I immediately knew it was wrong for me. I lived with my ex for three months before I was completely broken. I had no future other than cleaning and cooking and scrubbing the shit stains off his underwear. I felt abused and unappreciated and starving for a better life.

I left.

My life was very different then, and divorce was simply not an option in my social group. I lost all my friends, my family, and my church. Everything I had ever known changed from one day to the next. It was hell on Earth.

I had the opportunity to go back. I could have said I made a mistake. Temporary insanity. A bad day. I was on my period. Whatever.

But I pushed ahead and believed that things would get better. And they did. Much better. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I had lived out my original 10-year plan.

2. I left the country.

After I worked my ass off to rebuild my life, got myself through school with no disposable income, and found a job in my field, I realized I wasn’t satisfied.

It didn’t make sense. I had worked within my new plan. I had made it happen. But my heart wasn’t right. I was living in a city where I didn’t belong.

I left.

I said goodbye to my family, my job, my home, and my partner. I moved to a place I had never even visited, without a suitcase. I had no place to live and no job. I knew one person—Shacky.

Shacky picked me up from the airport on my first day in San Diego, and as soon as I breathed the San Diego air, I knew I was home. I just knew it. I got the sensation that for my entire life, I had been homesick for a place I had never been. And it was here.

This city spoke to me, and although I didn’t know how, I knew I would be OK. Immediately after that, things started falling into my lap. Within a month, I had a work visa, I had a job, and I had a boyfriend.

3. I quit my job.

I currently have a great life with nothing to complain about. I have a great job. I run beautiful mountains. I’m in an awesome relationship.

But this week I gave notice to quit my job.

From the outside, this is a pretty stupid decision. I have no real viable sources of income outside of work. And my company is a fast-growing one with opportunities for advancement.

Earlier I said I was doing an aggressive Second Wave Spring Cleaning, and this is part of that.

Previously on my 10-year plan:

  • I want to write books. I have ideas for at least three books, but with my job I have no time to write them.
  • I want to run the Appalachian and other multi-day trails. I don’t have enough PTO.
  • I want to opt out of the 9 to 5 lifestyle.

Living for the weekends doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I want to be doing what I love at all hours of the day. I want to be active, and when I’m sitting down I want to be either writing or eating.

This is part of a greater retirement plan that I will divulge in the next few months. But it involves putting into motion all those things I’ve always wanted to do.

This is my way of living in the present, believing in myself enough to take risks, and going aggressively after the life I’ve always dreamed. Not in 10 years. Right now. This spring.

Will you spring clean your Second Wave Shit this year?


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23 responses

  1. Great post! It makes me think about some things in my life. I would also like to make some drastic changes in some aspects of it. Maybe I will!

  2. Awesome post. My parents both died far too early as far as I’m concerned, with way too many things on their list entitled, “Things we will do when we are retired.”

    I don’t subscribe to the 9-5 lifestyle either. The weekends are way too short for that shit. Get out there and enjoy life today is my motto. Because you may be too dead to enjoy it tomorrow.

    Good for you, Vanessa.

  3. OMG. Your post totally spoke to me today. I’ve been cleaning out my shit lately, both figuratively and literally. Feels fantastic. I even wrote a related post this morning on my blog… I also don’t want to wait for some retirement that may never come to really live.

    Now to find my way out of the 9-5…

  4. this is a kick ass post. i love it.
    i run ultras. i run trails, and i run minimalist too.
    i have dealt with some second wave shit in the past few years.
    now i ask myself, what’s next? it’s the 9-5 shit. hmmm…..

  5. Wow, wow, wow. Good for you for quitting your job if it’s not what you want. Now I’m off to go think about what I want and about the things in my life that aren’t leading me in that direction. Thanks for the reminder about “stuff,” too. How much stuff do I need? Not nearly as much as I have, that’s for sure.

  6. You are so fun to read. I crack up at your stuff. I love love your site. I’m putting together a huge giveaway in conjunction with a novel about a runner. We’ve received some amazing sponsors for our giveaway and hoping you will be a part of it. Our idea is to promote our book and the products as well as your blog. Hopefully a win win for everyone involved. I sent you an email with more details. If you didn’t receive it please email me at

  7. I’m a new follower and I love your post. You are hilarious and you make an excellent point. As the years ticked by I saw not much was going as planned. I threw the plans away and live pretty much day by day. I do what makes me happy because you never know when shit is going to happen, but one thing is for sure. Shit will happen and there is nothing you can do about it.

  8. Bravo to you! I’m a cancer survivor so I had the “it’ll never happen to me” smacked the hell out of my head quickly. I can’t live for tomorrow. Some of us never get enough tomorrows, and next time around I might not be so lucky as to survive. That changes your entire outlook on life! I’m glad you’re going after your dreams! :)

  9. Why do you think you will become a writer some day? You are already a writer, and we are all blessed to witness the birth of a star we can follow.

    “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” – Seneca

    “Running provides happiness which is different from pleasure. Happiness has to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing” – George Sheehan

    “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go” – T.S. Elliot

  10. I was raised very sheltered by my parents, had no experience whatsoever…, perfect, no boyfriends ever, did all the sports, straight A student, excelled in everything I did. Most people who knew me thought I would follow the usual ‘lifescript’ of white picket fences and pitter patter of little feet, rich husband, awesome career, etc.

    Here was my 10 year plan… age 18
    -Go to university in Iowa and get my degree in Engineering, be a hotshot grad with employers falling over themselves to pine for me
    -Work for a major corporation making 100K per year
    -Get married, buy a house and have a child at age 25 (a LOT to squeeze in eh??)
    -By age 28 have my second child

    Here’s what happened, and I am now 28….
    -Went to university in Iowa
    -Changed my field of study from Mechanical Engineering to Economics and Mathematics within my first year….and had no clue what I would do with those degrees just that I enjoyed those fields immensely
    -Left to study Spanish in Mexico during my senior year, and met my first boyfriend ever at age 21….a Hispanic-Canadian guy
    -Completed my university in four months after that and packed a suitcase and went to Toronto to be with my Canadian guy, parents cut off all support for me and mom died a year later
    -Got a job selling smoothies, lost it once my work permit expired and ended up living with my BF’s parents in their basement for a year
    -Finally got PR status in Canada and started working again, organizing files in a dusty office basement
    -Relationship lasted through 4 more years of severe abuse and manipulation, with me working to support this man and him having no means of income (yea pretty dumb of me huh?), sitting on his ass and playing video games
    -Age 26, left the relationship, moved to a 100 square foot basement apartment and started from scratch
    -Age 27, met another guy……he has two kids. Thought I could handle it, but made me realize I didn’t want kids of my own, still seeing him and not sure when it’s gonna end
    -Age 28 today: moving to an above ground 1 bedroom apt this Saturday, got a recent promotion in my job which I love (number crunching! Yes I am a nerd at heart)

    My friends at home that assumed me to be the innocent, perfect church going girl don’t think highly of me. But I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the WORLD. I have learned so much about myself….
    -I am perfectly comfortable not getting married or living with anyone
    -I do not want children of my own, but I am open to adoption
    -There’s so much to do in this amazing and LONG life ahead of me and I do not need to rush to do it all at once, live one day at a time. I have SO MUCH TIME.
    -I love my independence and freedom
    -I am still learning about myself
    -I want to eventually take a year or two off to spend in another country

    For me, these experiences are just more steps in the staircase of life….

  11. haha, yer bananas girl! i love it.
    my 10 year plan when i was 18? be happy. stay single. no’d i do? i suppose i didn’t know what form happiness would take. i never knew that i’d go the other way and “find God” or be found by Him. i was a dyed in the wool atheist! i most certainly didn’t want a cute little family, with a house and a dog and a vegetable garden. but 14 years later here i am. i love my kids. wouldn’t trade them for the world. though they do make it virtually impossible to have the jumbo sized adventures i crave….i consider my mini-adventures to be prep for the future. and i work hard to keep myself fit and ready for that season of life.
    5 years ago i was a deeply depressed recluse, terrified of even visiting the local library. i hadn’t read in years, and i thought that everyone there would know! then i began running, and something clicked in my brain.
    for years jim and i have joked when people question our lifestyle – we say that we are independently wealthy. or semi-retired. or all the way retired. or we work – sometimes. kinda. we lived frugally and have set our lives up in such a way that neither jim nor i really have to work much. we have a ton of freedom, that most people don’t enjoy. there is no way i could have envisioned this life 10 years ago or even 5. i direct a race? i work for a non-profit? i am a freelance writer? i have friends? i coach? i run and hike and climb really really far? i would have said – who the hell are you talking about? i can barely leave the house! my God – what could happen in 5 more years? or 10? i could be a fucking millionaire! or have adopted an AIDS orphan! or opened a business! or be driving a 1973 “hugger orange” chevy corvette stingray with tan leather interior and t-tops! CRIPES – anything!

    what i do know is that contents under pressure blow, but if ya don’t turn the burner on everything is gonna stay the freaking same. quitting yer job – was you turning the heat to high, baby. kaboom! all there is to do now is see where it lands!

  12. I’be always felt like a bit of a loser for not making a 5 or 10 or 20 year plan. But, when I look back at 5 years ago, I almost always realize just how niave I was. I like your philosophy here. Eat prunes, stop the second wave shit.

  13. Vanessa, Great read.

    For some reason runners don’t want to talk about the shit part of running. I’m glad you did (talk about running and life).

    A friend once told me: “If work gets in the way of sport, you need to make a plan…” Slowly but surely I can see that plan coming together for me too.

    Good on you. You’ll do Great!!! ;)

  14. Great post. I’m former Iowa girl now living in San Diego and loving life! I’ve done LOTS of “spring cleaning” in my day. And getting ready for a bit more now… Cheers!

  15. Pingback: Book Talk: The Summit Seeker - Thoroughly Thriving

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