Posted by: Sara | August 10, 2013

Balancing the Weight of the World

It’s Friday night. 5:00. I’m about to head out to the gym for a 5:30 yoga class when my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number but it’s a 202 area code. My first thought anytime my phone rings with a 202 area code these days is that I’m about to take the phone call where I will finally hear the sweet relief in the words, “I’m calling to offer you the position…” But this was not that phone call. It was the bittersweet rejection phone call. In the past seven plus months, I’ve seen 21 emails and taken 2 of those “we were very impressed with your credentials; however…” phone calls. It’s a bad ratio to the number of jobs I’ve applied for so I appreciate them because then I can ask for the interviewer’s advice for improvement. But it’s only inevitable that when I hang up the phone, I pretty much lose my mind. Seven long months of joblessness, over two and a half years on the hunt. Absolutely no end in sight. I wonder how much more I can take, especially when, a week ago, I had seven leads on the table and now I have only two. I get that the market is tough. But seriously?

I give myself an hour to be pissed off and sad about losing this lead, which was for a job that I would consider a “dream job” and the second of its kind I was rejected for this week. I’ve already missed yoga class so I decide to lace up my shoes and go for a run. I’ve had good ones lately so I know this time, it’ll cheer me up. But by the middle of the third mile and without music to distract me, my mind goes back to the events of the past week.

I can literally feel the mental and physical transition. My chest tightens, my breathing becomes shallow, I can feel my eyes glaze over, and mental fog rolls in. I start to slow down and, realizing that I’m going to ruin the fast pace I’d been running this far, I panic slightly and push faster but the mental fog has done the most damage in the least bit of time. Once my mind is locked on the fact that I’m staring into the face of possible financial ruin and homelessness if I can’t get a frickin job, it’s all I can think about. Forget about pace times– what about my LIFE!?!

It’s incredibly heart wrenching to allow myself to go to such a dark place, as real as it is. Running is the only thing I have control over right now but it’s also what I do when I need to think. And when all I can think about is how I’m rapidly sinking towards a complete disaster, my running gets out of control. Unlike running to get over a breakup or grieving a death or other such loss, this is the kind of problem that doesn’t end until it ends. There are no steps to take toward an end goal. You can network, apply, and interview until you’re blue in the face and speaking gibberish (which I am), but until that phone call with the magic words, “We’d like to offer you the position…”, there is no end in sight; no progress to be marked on a chart, no days that are better than the days before. It’s crappy until it’s not. And it gets crappier until suddenly it’s okay again.

The problem, too, is that I haven’t been able to find that mechanism in my head that allows me to convert the fear and emotion of unemployment into a kick-ass run. In the first few months of joblessness, I was able to do this because the fear wasn’t so paralyzing. I still had time, money, and leads. In fact, earlier this year, I was able to break my marathon PR by 29 minutes, my half-marathon PR by 1 minute, and then again by 7 minutes a month later. Somewhere deep inside, I’m still there. But I found my identity in my career long before I found my identity as a runner, and running isn’t hinged on your home, lifestyle, and financial well-being. Even going for the sweet release of feeling my feet pound the pavement can turn into a reminder that I’m failing everywhere because I can’t even run the way I used to. Instead of becoming a stress reliever, running is a stress-inducer.

I miss running free.

And I hate that every single running mantra is slapping me upside the head right now. Rationally, I feel like I am using this as an excuse not to run because I WANT to get out there. I know how exercise is a stress-reliever, I understand its benefits during both good times and bad times. I’m jealous of people who can channel fear and anxiety into power and strength. But maybe what I am experiencing is not a matter of power and strength as it is a matter of endurance. Marathoners know full well what it’s like to train hard for endurance in both speed and distance, but we still have limits and sometimes we run smack dab into the wall. Sometimes, the wall can be traversed and sometimes, it cannot. Unlike a marathon, I can’t give up. I have to keep going.

And after seven months of hell, perhaps the only mantra that I need to be clinging to is not the one that chides me for using circumstance as an excuse but the one that says, “One foot in front of the other,” or “Your legs are not giving out; your mind is.” Because it takes one kind of runner to run every day with power and strength and eye on the prize, but it takes another to keep going when there is every reason to stop.

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