This morning as I prepare to run this 13.2 I’m up early, and nervous! Or excited or something. I woke up far too early and couldn’t go back to sleep.
Despite all my yammering about how I’m not competitive, I did set myself a bit of a bar for this thing by telling “the world” (a.k.a. the small number of people who read this blog) that I’m going to complete this race. And it kind of adds to the pressure! Still, all in all, I’m excited to go do this thing.
I’ve been thinking about how happy I am that my friend Sanna and I both made it to this point. I wouldn’t be looking forward to the race nearly as much without her. And that made me think about all the luck involved. Either of us could have gotten sick today. More likely, either of us could have developed one of those famous repetitive stress injuries that runners get, which could have stopped our training. Instead, we got lucky. We both held loosely to this goal, and now we get to enjoy that sense of accomplishment, and we’ll get to share it.
So many big goals, or even medium-sized goals in life require things to just happen to go okay.
I’ve thought about this often as a person in higher education. Semesters are inflexible, but people’s lives go all awry over the course of them, and sometimes getting through your classes as a student is just luck—which is why I’m the last person to have strict attendance policies or to deny students an extension on their papers. Life happens! (It’s also true that people with more privilege are at lower risk for getting de-railed by financial woes, heavy work schedules, and by being indispensable supports to other people).
I got my Ph.D. in my 20s. All around me were people who tried that route, but didn’t finish. Sometimes the profession just didn’t turn out to be a good fit for them; they found other things they enjoyed and had the courage to abandon a goal that wasn’t an authentic one for them. In many cases it was also just a matter of luck, and I had the right luck to get through. If I’d had a child with special needs or an ailing parent who required my attention, I might have been called away from the focus of study to attend to other pressing human needs and rewards. I had a super supportive spouse (who has stayed through the long haul, including the long journey to tenure.) I didn’t get sick or have to cope with the illness of someone dear to me; I didn’t get divorced; I didn’t run into so much financial difficulty that the whole thing became untenable.
But those who didn’t finish went on to do some of the many interesting things people do with their lives on different paths, with different goals, with a different configuration of needs. In my life today, I couldn’t be more happy that many of the people who are closest to me have taken paths other than the Ph.D. and have enriched my life with their different journeys. The focus of the Ph.D. journey and the one that followed it had many rewards, but many opportunity costs too, which is a subject for another time.
Anyway, I’m glad I’m on the verge of meeting this much smaller goal of doing this run today. In many ways these journeys don’t compare to each other at all. It takes a gazillion times more investment to climb any career ladder than it does to train for a few months for a half-marathon. But I continue to think of this training as another running journey that gives me perspective on other trajectories in life. There are joys and opportunity costs in each. I know, for example, that when this journey is over, I’ll enjoy having my Saturdays to do something other than run 10 miles or so and spend the rest of the day recovering! Still, it’s been fun!