It's a New Year: Pace Yourself
On Resolving to Rest
Your problem isn’t that you lack the legs, it’s that you don’t have the lungs.
It’s August 1998, and I’m irrationally confident as I’m walking through the double doors into the gym getting ready to meet my new coach. Now 14 years old, standing at 6’1”, I’m a much different specimen than the 5’4” kid that got cut from his middle school basketball team. TWICE. Granted, somewhere along the line, I hit puberty and grew 9 inches in 9 months. Not to mention that I came of age when my once dormant Nigerian genes kicked in (like the first time Michael J. Fox turned into Teen Wolf). I’m ready for whatever my soon-to-be coach would throw at me. My game was tight. My determination—unfaltering. I was ready to take my place in this little basketball fraternity.
Imagine my surprise when these next words fell violently from Coach Bailey’s lips.
“If you ain’t running cross country, don’t even bother coming to try out for my team.”
We stood speechless, and somehow we all knew what each other was thinking. It was like our scowls were subtitled.
Cross country?! Running cross-country seemed pointless. We’d been playing all summer. We were already in shape. We needed to get work done in the gym. We didn’t want to be in the Texas heat running MILES every day. Especially, in those cross country shorts. The short ones. The itty bitty ones. (Remember, this is the 90s. This was the AND 1 era where your shorts didn’t fit unless the hems of the bottom brushed up against the tops of your ankles. I grew up in between the late-80s where men like Apollo Creed were wearing halter tops and daisy dukes AND the present day when that style seems to have come back around. Having to wear those shorts were more brutal than the miles.)
We were too scared to aim our frustration right at Coach Bailey, so we started talking to ourselves—allowing our voices to bounce off the cement walls and hardwood floors. We hoped they’d hit him indirectly.
They did. And he shut it down quick. His voice was a gavel that simultaneously silenced the room and overruled the objections. He shut everything down with one more phrase.
Your problem isn’t that you don’t have the legs; it’s that you don’t have the lungs.
We didn’t have stamina. We lacked the ability to catch our wind quickly and cross country would help with that. Running long distances helps with recovery. Every body that plays a sport starts off strong. Coach Baily just wanted to ensure we’d be the last people to give up. Our biggest problem wasn’t our present desire to win; our biggest problem was eventual fatigue. And our coach just wanted to make sure that our lungs never convinced our will it was time to quit.
He taught us the benefits of a steady pace. What seems most urgent, isn’t always what’s most important. We need to give ourselves to what’s actually most important, not merely what seems urgent.
And twenty-four years later, I’m leaning into that wisdom as I start my new year. IN FEBRUARY.
My New Years Resolution: DISCOVERING MY IDEAL LIFE’S PACE
This year, I have one resolution. DISCOVER MY IDEAL LIFE’S PACE.
I’ve lived most of my life walking the tightrope of urgency, and often falling into my FIGHT or FLIGHT safety net. Here’s what I mean. My life for the past 20 years has gone something like this.
I set goals and intend to accomplish them.
I have no rivals when it comes to pairing my goals with good intentions. There is no one alive who can “out-intention” me.
Yet EVERY season and EVERY goal of my life follows the same pattern.
First, comes procrastination.
Then comes pushing through to the finish line.
Then comes, exhaustion.
A mini-breakdown (making everyone in my life miserable).
A brief recovery.
And then I do it all over again.
Essentially, I make EVERYTHING more urgent than it needs to be. This urgency tends to make me put things off (because I imagine I’ll have much more courage and much more time to do it later). Then later always has this way of sneaking up on me. Later is very punctual. She always seems to come earlier than I hope. At this point, I pile things on. And even though I believe myself when I lie to me and say I’m fine, everyone else in my life knows I’m not. My therapist picked up on my anxious energy in the first few sessions because now that I’ve stepped away from pastoring, my anxious energy can’t conveniently hide behind my vocational responsibilities.
January, helped me to realize that my pacing was off. I left a career and immediately felt like the most urgent thing to handle was what was I going to do next? What job would I take? What specific opportunities would I lean into?
And then the shortness of breath came. And I realized, I don’t have the lungs.
So, I decided to stop trying to figure it out and use this year to discover my pace.
Finding Your Pace replaces an obsession with finishing, with the joy of journeying.
Somewhere during those high school cross-country years, I started enjoy running. I found a stride where running 3 miles didn’t feel like work but rest. I enjoyed the feeling of gliding. When I’m running no one needs anything from me. No one is talking to me because we’re all out of breath. No music playing (this was pre-iPod and the skip protection on CD’s was still trash.) I was alone with my thoughts; even though my body was in gear, my mind was in neutral. To begin a race longing for a finish line is a terrible way to run. It’s an even worse way to live. Running (or living) that way is agonizing. Settling into a good pace and enjoying the benefits of the pace allows you to find joy in the journey.
Finding Your Pace gives you the freedom to change course.
I had a friend, John Rainbolt, who originally ran cross country with us because he had to. But John was built different than the rest of us and this one season changed the trajectory of his high school years (if not his life). These cross-country meets had about 150 people running each race. The basketball players would consistently place somewhere between 135th-150th. But not John. He was winning medals.
He moved up and started running with the varsity. He played a season of freshman basketball and then quit to run track. He won State in the mile (I think he ran it in 4:30 or something ungodly like that). He ended up getting a track scholarship to the University of Texas. And it all came because of one encouragement from our coach about learning to establish pace.
Finding Your Pace benefits you in ways you never expected.
Coach Bailey was right. Even though our team wasn’t very good that year, we never gave up. Never felt like we didn’t have it in the tank. We got blown out our fair share, but always had more than enough energy on the bus ride home to get into some trouble! And more than that, 24 years later, I’ve been shaped by this lesson of pace.
TRUST THE PROCESS
I want to discover life in a new way this year, and I think I’m done (at least for this next season) resolving what I’m doing to do. I’m eager to discover what life can look like. So this year, I’m setting a pace that will give me the margin to be wowed by the things I discover about myself, the world, and my place in it. For the time being, I’m putting a pause on outcome goals and focusing instead on the process of establishing a pace. For example, here’s how this plays out in my reading.
An OUTCOME goal says: I want to read 52 books this year. I usually lead off each year with a goal like this. And it tends to put me in the cycle that I talked about before. This sense of urgency makes me put things off (because I think have time) and then I pile them on. The whole time blinded to joy as I’m bound by this duty. It’s miserable.
Process goals are different. This year, my reading resolution is aimed at process/pace, not outcome. I’ll commit to the process and let the outcome come.
A PROCESS/PACE-ORIENTED goal says: I want to read 30 minutes per day. This is what I’ve currently committed to. I wake up every morning, drink a glass of water, make my coffee and after prayer and meditation, I start reading a book for 30 minutes. My body’s in gear, but my mind’s in neutral. I’m gliding. And as I’ve done a little each day, I’ve been enjoying the time instead of dreading how far I am from my “goal.”
I’ve enjoyed my time reading this year as much as any other time in my life. It’s been transformative and liberating (I wish I could find better words that don’t sound cliche, but those words are accurate as they come).
This is my January list of books read. EIGHT. And to be honest, it’s felt as effortless as it’s been enjoyable.
Next week, I’ll (briefly) review each of these books, but as of right now, we’re 36 days into the New Year and I’m on my 10th book. Two of which have been life-changing (again, that word seems like an overstatement, but it’s not. If there were a more powerful word, I would use it). I’ll talk more about those books and the next steps next week.
For now, I’m off to keep running. Trying to make sure I have the lungs to give my full self to whatever outcomes come my way.
Where in your life do you need to set a good pace? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.