For a long time, I have wanted to be a runner.
It’s not because I love to run. In fact, for most of the runs I’ve ever been on, I have very much disliked it. But I like the idea of being a runner. I like the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, the independence of it, seeing how fast and how far my own two feet can take me. I like that the only person I’m competing against (at my level, anyway) is myself.
The idea of running that I have so romanticized, however, has never been very good motivation for me to put it into practice.
Every time I’ve tied up my sneakers and hit the pavement, I’ve dreaded the accompanying pain. Some people talk about the rush of endorphins – the runner’s high – and I would like to politely tell those people to shove it. When you run infrequently, you never build the necessary fitness to run without feeling like you want to die. And so for the past several years, I’ve spent most of my time feeling guilty that I’m not running, and, when I am running, wishing desperately that I were not.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for suffering—and for guilt. I like that say that I’d make a really good Catholic. But I’m realizing that guilt can actually be a kind of paralysis. Because I don’t feel like I can run properly, I don’t run at all; I let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
It’s a saying you may have heard before. The internet generally attributes the sentiment to Voltaire. The axiom is simple: a wimpy walk-run is better than no run at all. If you wait until you can do something to perfection, then you may never start.
This maxim struck a deep chord with me the first time I heard it. I’m often caught up in visions of “perfect,” and the phrase “good enough” is anathema to me. (To illustrate: once, after receiving a poor grade on a research paper in my first year of university, I scribbled the phrase “GOOD ENOUGH IS NEVER GOOD ENOUGH” on the whiteboard hanging on my dorm room door as a kind of self-shaming mechanism for my whole floor to see as I locked myself inside to study for finals. Healthy, right?) And yet I realized how the unachievable ideal of running fast and far without working through the pain first kept me from putting on my runners in the first place.
It’s not just running, either – when I started thinking about the perfect being the enemy of the good, I noticed how I write essays in my head all the time but fail to ever actually write them down if I felt I couldn’t capture the sentiments exactly as I wanted to. Instead, I leave the essays unwritten; I don’t believe I can make them perfect, so they never become anything at all. And as I retweeted some time ago:
So armed with this new philosophy, and a stubborn desire to prove to myself that I can do this, I found myself at my kitchen table last Thursday night, credit card in hand, typing some numbers into my internet browser and registering myself for the Victoria half-marathon this coming October.
That’s 21 km. Probably more than two hours of running. All at once. What have I done?
This is my grand experiment: to see if letting go of the desire to be perfect can help me reach this goal. (The additional commitment/sunk cost of $70 may also be a motivating factor to follow through.) Sometimes reaching big goals starts with imperfect, uneven steps – maybe as long as you’re moving forward, it’s something.