When life gets hard, continue moving forward

On April 2nd this year, I participated and finished a 10 mile (16.09 kilometers) Cherry Blossom Run in Washington D.C. Initially I was not planning to participate in this race. I already completed it several times, nine years ago, and was not interested in spending my weekends on training for this agonizing run. Especially in the winter months leading up to the race. So when registration opened up for the race, and then closed at the end of February, I was not registered to run.

That’s until on March 29th, three days before the race, I found out that one of the runners from my office, who was registered for the race, had to go out of town that weekend and could no longer participate.

Even the toughest challenges can be conquered when you have a team you can count on

To explain the background further, we recently learned that one of our close colleagues from work was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of cancer. He was an athlete all his life. He eats healthy, exercises regularly, and is an inspiration to many of us who want to get into shape. He registered for the race before he found out about his grave illness. And the idea of not participating in it, was just another hit, out of the many he received in a span of few weeks.

To show support, several runners from our office decided to run in his honor. They made team jerseys and red rubber bracelets bearing his name. The group also organized regular training sessions, during lunch, to prepare for the race. I joined them on the shorter ones, three miles or less, but was not in shape to participate in the five or the six mile stretches.

However, when one of our colleagues was no longer able to do the run, the team organizer reached out to me. Knowing that I was also a runner, and that I did the race before, she asked me if I would take the other runner’s place. She also shared with me other unexpected news. Apparently our sick friend was going to run the 10 miles after all, despite his condition.

All of a sudden I had a decision to make. Do I want to try and run despite being out of shape? Do I come to the race that morning and stand on the sidelines to cheer for our team? Or, do I make an excuse, stay home on Sunday morning, in the comfort of my warm bed and enjoy a relaxing morning while I have my coffee and Belgian waffles?

We don’t always have the luxury to prepare for what’s ahead

The more I thought about my options, the clearer it became to me that I needed to do this run. After all, my friend who has cancer was running in it, and his odds were even worse than mine. Also, he didn’t have a chance to prepare for cancer either. Like most of us, he was going about his life, when suddenly he found out that he had this vicious killer inside of him. He did not practice for the chemotherapy sessions. He was not training for the way the harsh drugs were going to impact his body. No one prepares for the battle with cancer.

Thinking about his situation, I decided to leap in. And try to run as much as I could. Even if I had to walk a portion of the race, I was going to be there. Running with the whole team. Doing something that’s not comfortable, and that’s not convenient. But doing it to be there for him and encourage my friend to not give up on his even tougher battle ahead.

On the morning of the race when I woke up at 5:00 am, groggy and wishing I could sleep longer, I was dreading what was still ahead of me that morning. Then thoughts like, “what am I doing?” and “what if I get injured?” were popping in my head. But, as I collected myself and had some coffee, my enthusiasm started coming back, and my doubt slowly dissipated.

At the start line, it was exciting to stand among our whole team and telling my friend that “he can do this!” His smile was so big that for a moment he didn’t look at all like someone who had cancer. Also, seeing all types of runners and feeling the energy in the air, reassured me that I was doing the right thing.

Step by step, mile after mile, as long as you’re going forward, you will keep getting closer to the finish line

The first three miles were easy. I still had the energy and my legs were holding up. However around mile five, I started to feel the pain in my legs. When I reached the five-mile marker, I felt like I have already run 20 miles. The idea that I still had another five miles ahead, terrified me. I started to think that maybe I should just walk the rest of the way, or just stop now and go home. But, looking at the people around me, and my team, as they kept running, helped me continue on. All of a sudden we reached a stretch with all the beautiful cherry blossoms in full bloom. I looked up and saw pink flowers falling like pink snow all around me. It was so beautiful to see the pink petals dancing in the breeze. I was no longer looking at the concrete underneath my feet, but instead I focused on the scene above the racers, and took time to appreciate the beauty around me, rather than think of the pain I was feeling.

But, by mile seven it hit me again. This was probably the hardest stage, because I felt like all my energy was spent. And yet I still had three more miles to go. I was ready to stop and walk the rest of the course, when all of a sudden I heard musicians playing on the sidelines. Their loud drums filled my heart with enthusiasm. The sound of music made me somehow feel lighter. Their music kept me going and upon reaching mile nine, I knew I could do this. I knew I could finish and reunite with my friend at the finish line and show him my support. Thank goodness for music and those wonderful musicians.

To do something significant requires endurance and determination

Running the 10-mile Cherry Blossom race and thinking about my friend and the tough battle in front of him, helped me realize that to do anything significant in life requires endurance. I am not a professional athlete. I wasn’t prepared to run such a long distance. But I ploughed through regardless, the best way I could. And with some determination and endurance, I was able to get through and reach the finish line. Just like I have faith in my friend who, thanks to his endurance, will conquer this cancer.

And similarly to a long race, getting through the hard times in our life requires endurance and determination. To plough through to the other side. And even when it seems we can’t go any further, we must at least give it a fair effort.

Instant gratification erodes our endurance

The trouble is that many people expect quick results. And in the age of technology where instant gratification is part of its allure, we’re conditioned to think that there is an app solution for all of our problems. And that magically, with a few clicks and slides, we can do and get anything we want. A new job will materialize if we send in our resume through a powerful job-searching app. A new girlfriend or a boyfriend will appear at our doorstep if we swipe right. Or, a perfectly sculpted body will emerge, if we get that training app and exercise for the month of January. Meanwhile, the fact that it took years of unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyle to become overweight in the first place, is suddenly forgotten. And, it will probably take at least half that time to start seeing any results. In fact, staying in shape is a lifestyle choice, for the rest of your life, not just a five-week exercise plan.

If you want something exceptional, it will take exceptional effort

Beginnings are often the hardest. Especially when we get accustomed to certain habits that we suddenly need to change. Having to give up the daily soda or beer, can feel like a drug withdrawal the first week or two. Leaving a comfortable office job in order to open a café can be scary. Especially when at first cash flow is very slow. An average business, if it survives, takes five years minimum to break even and requires hard work and determination to stay competitive. Sure it’s easier to show up at the office each day, doing the same predictable task. But staying in the comfort zone because it’s easier that way, and putting aside your dreams of making the best coffee in the world, only leads to average.

For many, good enough or average can be all they ever need to stay happy. However, for those who want something more out of life, something above average, an average office job, relationship out of convenience, mediocre education or idea is not going to cut it. Anything that is significant and above average, requires above average effort, above average work, and most important, endurance to make through the obstacles that stand between you and your dreams. The choice is yours, you either continue doing what’s comfortable, or you endure some discomfort for the chance to experience some of the happiest moments of your life.

About the picture: Sleepy Meadows at the foot of the Mountains

Sleepy meadow_Lange

In this picture, a boy on the hill is waving goodbye to his friends who are resting on the meadow filled with red poppies. The poppies symbolize sleep and represent a world that’s in a haze. A place where it feels like time has stopped. Something inside the boy ignited his wanderlust, and prompted him to leave. And now he must say goodbye to the pastures he played in for many years, and the familiar paths he walked each day. He is leaving a world that can no longer keep up with him. His curiosity has awakened and he desires to expand his realm.

But he is also struggling with his decision to leave all that’s familiar to him. To symbolize his hesitation, his body still remains facing his friends and the sleepy meadow. He knows he will miss them and the comfortable world he’s leaving behind. But he also knows that if he stays, he will succumb to the sleep and lose his motivation and ambition. Like the butterfly, his time is quickly fleeting and he must leave now, while he has his chance. Facing his back, are the mountains ahead. They are like a dark wall that stand between his current comfortable life and the dreams that lie beyond them. The mountains symbolize the challenges ahead. He will need to face and overcome those challenges to get through to the other side and fulfill his dreams. He will need determination and endurance to make it through.

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