Holding my Life in an Open Hand

I’m in my 40’s and I have a lot of friends that span both the younger and older end of the age spectrum.  The other night I was having dinner with some of the younger folk – average age was probably around 30.  At one point during dinner, a 28-year old friend turns to me and declares “I’m going to be married and have 4 kids by the time I’m 35.”  And knowing her, she will.  But here’s the thing… what if she doesn’t?  What if she doesn’t meet the right guy?  What if she does and they get divorced?  What if she’s 34 and she’s only had one child?  What if she’s 34 and a single mom?  What if she’s 34 and (gasp!) SINGLE?  Of course I didn’t say any of this to her.  I definitely had similar goals and rigid timelines when I was her age.  But it reminded me of someone I met long ago who made a declaration that has stuck with me ever since.

He said:   “Don’t focus on outcomes.”  I was young.  In my early 20’s.  And was at a ceremony celebrating the retirement of my father.  It was a lovely day — lots of people were saying wonderful things about my father, whom I adore.  But of all the accolades and advice, the one thing that stuck with me was:  Don’t.  Focus.  On.  Outcomes.  Why did that resonate with me so deeply?  Because I am a perpetual focuser on outcomes.  I want things to go the way I think they “should” go.  I want to know what’s going to happen before it happens so I won’t be caught off guard.  I try not to leave anything to chance.  I want to be prepared.  I want to know exactly what’s going to happen and how I’ll feel about it.   And if I think I won’t feel good about it?  I’ll try to change it or avoid it all together.   In other words, I’m extremely focused on outcomes.

I think it all boils down to a struggle with control.  I want it.  I want it always.  It has a tendency to rear its ugly head a lot with my running.  I just started running again after a long injury and I’m still not completely healed.  But I’m running again.  And I’ve only recently turned the corner with being able to bring back in some speed work.  The first time I ran a sub-8 minute mile again?  I was over the moon.  Not two weeks later, I’m disappointed that I haven’t yet run a sub-7:30.

And this isn’t just with events that are outside of my control – it also happens with people.  I was in a 7 year relationship with a great guy and I spent the final 3 years of the relationship trying to make it something it wasn’t.  Tried to make him something he wasn’t.  We had grown apart and rather than accept that, I tried to force it to be what I thought it should be.  Tried to force the outcome.  Well, the outcome was that we broke up.  Fortunately we are still very good friends, but it was a big lesson for me.

And the truth is there are so many things in life that are completely out of our control.  And to try and swim against that is only going to make it worse.

I read a great article in Running Times magazine about 35-year old runner Dot McMahan and her struggles (and triumphs) with getting back to running after having a baby.  One section of the piece reads: “The start of her family has taught McMahan to hold her running career in an open hand.”  An open hand.  I like that.  My hand?  It’s slowly – SLOWLY – starting to loosen its grip on my desired outcomes.  I think my injuries helped me to appreciate running for far more than accomplishments with speed.  And disappointments in my career or matters of the heart have taught me that life doesn’t always happen the way it’s “supposed” to happen.

And you know what?  Sometimes the unknown can be very exciting if you can learn to just chill the fuck out and let it unfold.

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  1. a great article!

  2. Thanks, Ruth!


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