As a Canadian living in the USA, one of the first things I noticed upon moving here was how gung-ho Americans seemed to be about fighting for their rights. Issues like gun control, health care, and other common themes are sure to raise blood pressures and trigger heated debates.
Yet the greatest inhibitions in life are the ones we place on ourselves, and that has certainly been true for me. These past few months I have been attacking the obstacles that have been preventing me from embracing true freedom, and I’ve discovered that these are rights many of us have overlooked. And unlike many major political issues, these things affect us every day, several times a day.
Exercising the following rights has freed me in many ways, and I hope they will also inspire you to live better:
1. I will exercise my right to take my time.
Do you know what the worst part of a minimum wage job is (I’ve had several)? It’s not the crappy hours or the pathetic pay. It’s the 30-minute lunch breaks. Lunch in 30 minutes?! That’s unheard of. I’m a one- to two-hour lunch girl. I’m also a slow eater.
I’m slow at chewing. I’m slow at swallowing. And when I’m done, I’ll probably want dessert. God help you if I make tea—I’ll just sit there sipping until the sun goes down.
When I lived in Mendoza, Argentina, I quickly adapted to their European model of eating lunch. Everyone went home at lunchtime, prepared lunch, took their sweet-ass time eating, and then took long naps. They went back to work at around 3 p.m., and worked until around 7 p.m.. Now there’s a decent life.
The truth is, I’m slow at most things. I’m a slow runner. I’m slow at waking up. And I’m slow at thinking my thoughts and writing them down.
But I like to think that these things are worth the wait. Great things need time to just sit around, like wine or sauerkraut or cheese (more about cheese later). Slowing down also gives me time to make sense of my world, and write posts like these.
Ever since I left the corporate world to bum around the country in an RV, I’ve been less apologetic about taking my time. I’ve exercised my right to move slowly. As a result, I’ve noticed a drastic boost in creativity. I get more and better ideas. My thoughts have time to develop and intertwine. I write better, with more clarity, and I can make better connections.
If you operate in a rushed environment, I strongly encourage you to slow down. I was always afraid to try this, especially at work because everyone around me was moving so fast and I worried I would get left behind. But I wish I had been brave enough to slow down sooner. I would have been better at my job, better at relationships, and better at life.
Practice saying these amazing phrases:
“I need more time.”
“I’m not finished with that yet.”
“Please come back later.”
And every once in a while, take a long lunch. A REALLY long lunch. Make a cup of tea and drink it slowly with a friend. Yes, life is short. But these are the simple pleasures that make life worth it.
2. I will exercise my right to sing and/or dance.
A few weeks ago we were shopping at Trader Joe’s. Shacky was looking for some eggs and I found a little corner where they were giving away cheese samples. CHEEEEESE!! I love cheese, but I’ve been on a mostly-vegan diet since May (plant-based is a more accurate description). It was really good quality cheese though, so I decided to make an exception and try a sample.
I hadn’t eaten cheese in quite a while and it was so freaking good that I wanted to hop up and down and do a little dance. But I didn’t. Cause I was at Trader Joe’s and it was crowded. But I should have.
This wasn’t the first time I suppressed a little dance. I usually feel like singing on the trails, but sometimes Shacky says, “Do you really have to sing This Land is Your Land again??” Still, I don’t want to suppress stuff anymore. If I’m happy, I should do a little jig.
I love cheese.
3. I will exercise my right to make a joke.
When I was trying to be a cool kid back in the age range when being cool was important (Jr. High), Yo Mama jokes were in style. So were any other insult-jokes.
- Yo mama is so stupid that it took her two hours to watch 60 Minutes.
- What’s the difference between three penises and a joke? Your mom can’t take a joke.
- Learn from your parents’ mistakes—use birth control.
I loved jokes. I would go to the library to read joke books, but they weren’t insult jokes. My favorite joke of all time was this:
Q: Why was the math book sad?
A: Because it had so many PROBLEMS!!”
HAH. Still a damn fine joke.
But I never got to tell it. Because the exchange below never quite seemed like a natural flow:
Other kid: Yo mama is so fat that when she gets in an elevator, it has to go down.
Me: Why was the math book sad?
As the years passed, I never really grew out of my silly sense of humor. I always had a quirky funny bone, and I would often find myself laughing alone at things that nobody else thought were funny.
I grew up with a sarcastic and teasing sense of humor. In my family, if someone teased you until you cried or until you became raging mad—that meant that they loved you. I have vivid memories of my dad making me cry this way. I can’t say I always enjoyed it, but his sense of humor did seem to rub off on me.
My uncles were the same way. They would torment each other, and that was how they showed love. But at school, they called that bullying.
In Junior High, I had a good friend that I teased in music class one day. I told him that his new haircut made him look like he had cancer. My teacher heard me, and lost his mind. He threw his music stand across the room, screamed at me, and made me leave the class. I was shocked. What did I say?
At that time, my mom was dying of leukemia and it was actually something we joked about at home. Humor was a coping mechanism and I genuinely had no idea that cancer was a sensitive issue.
After that outburst from my music teacher (who I loved and admired), I learned to heavily sensor my humor. Even now, I have a sarcastic, dirty, and hard-hitting funny bone. I still sensor myself a lot.
But I’m learning to let go. To just be who I am, even at the risk of offending others. Yes, I can seem callous and inappropriate. But there’s something to be said about humor as a tool for healing. We are hurting, but it hurts less if we can joke about it. We are starving, but our stomachs can be filled with laughter.
One of my biggest reliefs in life is when I hear someone else make a highly inappropriate joke that I also think is funny. The realization that they have the same sense of humor—and that I can be myself with them—is so liberating.
I can tease others mercilessly, but I can also roll with the hardest of jokes when they are directed at me. The best thing in life is to be able to laugh at yourself. And when someone laughs at me—I still feel loved.
Last month, I took Shacky to meet my uncles in L.A. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how they would act around Shacky. As soon as they opened the door, the first thing they did was tease him about his beard. And they continued to do so for the rest of the night, as new beard jokes occurred to them.
To me, the thought of teasing someone immediately after meeting them, before “feeling them out”, is a huge risk. I think twice. But to see my uncles do it so naturally, I had to smile. They were being themselves.
4. I will exercise my right to look you in the eye.
“EX-CUUUUUSE ME! Do you have a staring problem??!!”
This was said to me by a snarky little black girl in my elementary school class. She scared me a little. But she was right—I had a staring problem. I like to look at people.
What can I say, people are pretty interesting. Faces are cool. But direct eye contact was considered rude.
- Don’t look at strangers.
- Don’t stare.
- Keep your eyes to yourself.
All of these were things I was taught in school and in other social settings. So I stopped looking. Until eye contact seemed weird and uncomfortable. I lost my childlike courage to stare.
But I don’t really believe staring is a problem. I think I have a right to look you in the eye. You left your house this morning. You went out in public. We’re in a public space. So I believe I can look at you quite freely. I can wonder about you or think you’re pretty, or admire your clothes. And who knows, I may even say hello.
I’m tired of averting my eyes. I want to see you and notice details about you, and maybe even recognize you the next time we meet. And if you look back, maybe we can share a smile.
5. I will exercise my right to be silent.
My ex-boyfriend was a talker. I was always more of a listener, so I learned to perfect the art of acknowledgment-noises. Like:
Shacky doesn’t have any acknowledgment noises. So when I tell him something, sometimes he doesn’t reply at all. “Did he hear me?” I wonder. So I tell him again. No response. Again?
Eventually he just says, “I wish you’d be quiet.” And I have to laugh.
He DID hear me. But he exercises his right to be silent, and I’m learning to do the same.
Sometimes when I’m running in a group, I feel pressure to talk. It’s pressure I put on myself, thinking I have to fill every silence or people will realize I’m actually pretty boring to run with.
But silence is awesome, and I have a right to shut the hell up. I don’t have to make shallow, meaningless acknowledgment noises. I don’t have to rack my brain for something to say. I can just listen and talk when I want to.
Silence doesn’t mean that I’m mad. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, yet often that’s what we assume. We think everything is cool as long as someone is gabbing.
In journalism school, one of my professors gave me a valuable tip that I never forgot. I’ve used it often with tremendous results. It’s this:
When you’re interviewing someone, ask them a question and let them reply. After that, there’s a lull. A short silence. The interviewer’s instinct is to fill this silence with a response, or by asking the next question. But if the interviewer is brave enough to remain silent, the interviewee will start speaking again. They will answer the question a different way. Because they’re out of their standard reply, what they say next is usually genuine, raw, and often the blatant truth. More often than not, they reveal something truly insightful and fascinating in an effort to fill that silence.
My professor was an expert with this technique, sometimes staying silent long enough for the interviewee to provide two or three answers. The key is for the interviewer to be comfortable with silence. They must perfect the ability to look at someone and just smile, knowing that they are waiting for you to say something, but refusing to utter a word.
I have been trying to eliminate wasteful words from my daily life. I want to stick to words that come from the heart and that mean something. Words with intention.
And if I have nothing to say—I will exercise my right to say nothing at all.
6. I will exercise my right to get excited.
Getting excited is never cool, especially when you’re a teenager. As a teenager, I would get excited about most things, so I was a pretty big nerd.
I would get excited about books, about nature, about learning, and even about homework. I would wonder how things were made, and I would get excited about that too. The cool kids were indifferent and unimpressed. That’s what made them cool. They would roll their eyes at me, so eventually I learned to stop showing my excitement.
I still get excited about a lot of things, but I’ll also still catch myself suppressing my excitement (see section above re: cheese dance). It’s a bad habit formed over time that I need to shake off.
I miss getting really excited about stuff. I miss jumping up and down and clapping my hands. I miss high-fives. I miss lingering at a rock formation or a sign, to examine them thoroughly and then get excited about them.
In my mind, I still see the rolling eyes of those judgmental teenagers, even though they’re no longer part of my life. It’s time to exercise my right to excited about dumb stuff.
7. I will exercise my right to experiment.
Jason Robillard has just written a book (to be released soon) on trail and ultrarunning. He calls it a “Guide for Weird Folks” because it contains a plethora of lessons and experiences he has accumulated over years of experimentation and doing the opposite of conventional running wisdom.
As a result, his book is full of tips that you will not find anywhere else. Jason has experimented with various forms of sleep deprivation training, stomach training (how to run on both a full stomach as well as an empty one), and even when it’s best to wear cotton instead of tech clothing. He has done everything from running in a sun hat to duct taping his gonads (sans instructional video). He even covers grooming in the nether regions for endurance runners (hair, no hair, or some hair?). It’s quite a read.
The success of Jason’s blog, and the pending success of his book, is a great example of the power of experimentation. I’m a big fan of guinea-pig-style writing, and I’m strong advocate of experimentation.
It used to be that ultrarunning was such a niche sport that participants HAD to experiment to find what worked for them. These days there is so much written about training and race tips, that you could easily follow conventional wisdom and, in my opinion, miss out on valuable knowledge.
Our society isn’t set up to encourage experimentation. We are consumers of the tried and true. We want someone to tell us what works so we don’t have to try new things. But experimentation is still the best way.
My ultrarunning experience can be summed up by stating that I’ve had great success by doing all the wrong things. I increased my distance too fast. I don’t taper. I almost always try something new on race day, including shoes. One thing that experimentation teaches me is the incredible skill of adaptability.
And really—what is an ultramarathon finish if not a successful adaptation to all the challenges faced throughout the day? Experiment, experiment, experiment. In this sport, there are no rules—same with life.
8. I will exercise my right to do my best.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?… Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you… As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson
This is a quote that resonates with me. Often, I seem fearless on the outside. But my deepest fears are rooted in the fact that I’m afraid of what I could become if I did my absolute best.
It all started in elementary. I would do well in class, and get labeled a nerd. So I learned to hold back. I learned to do well, but not too good. I learned to never do my best.
When I started running ultras, I quickly learned that I was pretty good at it. I ran my first sub-6-hour 50K early on in my ultra career. I jumped from the 50K distance straight to 100 miles. I finished 100 miles on my first attempt. And in that same year, I finished four 100s.
Even so—I still hold myself back. During races, if I’m running fast and feeling good, I think:
- I shouldn’t feel this good. Something must be wrong. I should slow down.
- I don’t deserve to finish this strong. I should move slower.
- People with more experience are further behind me. I should slow down.
- I’m not hurting, but everyone else is walking. I should walk too.
- I’ve had a really good running year. I should finish this, but not push too hard.
Deep down, I’m afraid of what I could become if I truly did my best. Like that elementary student, I want to do well but not stand out. I’m terrified of my limits. Not because they will hold me back, but because I may discover that I actually have none.
Little by little, I’m conquering those fears. I’m signing up for harder mountain races. I’m starting to expand my training: more core and strength work, with the purpose of getting stronger. I’m experimenting with more uphill running, instead of just power hiking. It’s a slow process, and sometimes I’m still very afraid. But I know that I don’t have to measure myself by anyone else’s standards. I can do my best, and soar to new heights.
And yes—I do deserve it.
9. I will exercise my right to fail.
From an early age, we set up our children for success. We try to give them every advantage, every head start, and the smoothest road possible to an easy and profitable life.
But don’t we learn better from a face full of dirt after a hard fall? From scrapped knees and bloody hands and hot tears? We learn from our failures, and we learn fast.
That’s how I grew up: with the face-full-of-dirt technique. That’s how I learned to ride a bike, to run on trails, to attack life’s challenges. Yes, some things were harder, like fitting in at school, but there was one thing I learned from growing up this way that has brought me great success: I lost my fear of failure.
I’m not sure it’s after your 100th time, or after your 1000th time of failing that you lose the fear of failure, but eventually it does go away. Failure just becomes a way of saying to yourself, “Try again another way.”
I have said before that when I registered for Chimera 100, I knew deep inside that I could not finish it. I embraced the possibility of failure, and started training my ass off. Had I been terrified of failure, I never would have registered. I never would have finished.
You know that feeling right after you register for a race, or take on a huge task where your blood pressure starts to rise and you think, “Dear God, what have I just done??!!” That’s good. That means you’re exercising your right to fail.
At my second 100-mile attempt, I failed. It was Nanny Goat 100. I only made it to 55 miles, and I felt pretty dumb because it was supposed to be an “easy” course. But the course was a 1-mile loop, and after 55 miles, the loops really got to me. I just gave up mentally. I just didn’t care anymore.
I learned so many things from that failure. I tried a few more looped courses, like Across the Years 72-Hours (1-mile loop for 3 days), and confirmed what I learned at Nanny Goat: I’m not really built for these types of courses. Give me mountains. Give me water crossings. Even give me mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and bears. But if you give me a loop where I’m going nowhere, I’ll want to shoot my brains out.
I still love the challenge of looped courses and greatly admire the folks who can buckle up and knock them out, but my failure at Nanny Goat taught me what my strengths were.
Failure is a shortcut to learning. The greater the failure, the stronger the lesson is reinforced. Embrace it.
10. I will exercise my right to dream ridiculously big.
“What the hell are you trying to do, run 100 miles someday??”
The biting words of my ex-boyfriend still ring in my ears. His tone was one of such deep disgust, and I knew he meant for me to be offended at his suggestion. It was right after I had come home from a long run, and he couldn’t understand why on earth I needed (or wanted) to be out running all day.
But I did want to run 100 miles. And how do you even begin to explain that to someone?
In life, I have learned that there are dreamers and there are dream-killers. Associate with dreamers.
Dreamers will not care WHAT your dream is or how ridiculous it sounds. They think you can do it, and will cheer you on.
- You want to run a 50K on little training, Trisha Reeves? Oh ya, you totally got it.
- You want to run across the country with no money and no shoes, Patrick Sweeney? Easy peasy. Go for it.
- You want to backpack across Central America by yourself through dangerous places, Jess Soco? Totally doable.
It doesn’t matter how ridiculous your dreams are, or if they’re even about running. Dreamers will cheer you on. That’s because dreamers know just how possible the impossible really is. And they’re often right.
Despite what others think of your skills, capabilities, or experience: You have a right to dream big. Not just a little big. Ridiculously, that-makes-no-sense, you-must-be-insane big. The kind of big that everyone—except for dreamers—will scoff at.
It’s your right to hold on to your dream. To nurture it, protect it, and grow it.
I threw myself unreasonably into my first 100-miler after only a small handful of 50K finishes. It was senseless and crazy and unheard of. But the dreamers in my life said: “You want to race 100 miles after only a few mediocre 50K finishes? You can do it.”
And so I did.
I have to smile whenever I read ultrarunning how-to articles that caution you on going slow, staying safe, and “never do anything new on race day”-type advice. Of course, this is all very reasonable advice. I cannot deny these tips, and it is your right to follow those wise words.
However, it is also your right to take a huge chance. To be reckless and completely crazy and just dream big. Really really really big.
You can do it.
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