To everyone’s surprise, most of all mine, I started running every day over Christmas break. Disclaimer: I’m not the most athletic person. In fact, I’m sure any elementary school kid could outrun me. I walked more than anything else during my daily workouts, only running the last quarter-mile or so to my house to make my parents think I’d really been pushing myself on my course around the neighborhood.
But lacing up my tennis shoes, stepping outside and trying my best to run as far and as fast as I could made me happier than I’ve been in a long time.
I chalked it up to endorphins at first. The rush of energy I got from the moment I stepped back inside and the cheeriness I felt seemed consistent with a rush of feel-good chemicals in my brain. Still, what I felt seemed a much greater change than that — more of a gradual paradigm shift.
Eventually, I decided the reason I loved running so much was because no one expected me to be good at it. Studying, writing, even such simple things as making dinner for my roommates — many things I do on a regular basis are things that I do because others expect me to be particularly skilled at them, resulting in the fear that if I don’t do them well, I’ll just be a disappointment. I didn’t run because anyone thought I had to be good at it. I did it simply because I loved running.
What’s particularly egregious about the pressure to do things just because others think we’re good at them is how it can destroy our love for what we do. When we’re so focused on doing things well rather than on simply doing things because we love them, or on doing things to keep others happy rather than on doing them for ourselves, we lose sight of our passion for whatever we’re doing. We lose sight of the love and joy that pushes us to get out of bed in the morning, to pull through a tough week at school, to get on our feet when a setback has knocked us down.
Especially as young college students who have many opportunities for trials and disappointments, losing our love for what we do can be crushing. If we don’t have motivation, passion, love, we have so little to fall back on when things go wrong, as they naturally will at times throughout our lives. When we do make mistakes or face obstacles, if we’re doing things only because we want the approval of others, the natural vicissitudes of life strike us more harshly because they make us feel that we’ve failed somehow, that we’re somehow inferior. I think, on the other hand, that when we do things out of love and passion for them, we have more resilience. Love will buoy us through our challenges; passion will kindle in us a fire to do better next time, to improve with every waking moment.
A new semester begins this week, bringing with it endless possibilities for failure, but also so many chances for me and for all of us to do what we truly love.
Without a doubt, I’ll be lacing up my running shoes.