I was never supposed to be a runner. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with asthma, and I essentially quarantined from strenuous exercise among other things like dust, mold, pollen, dogs, cats, fur, cold, heat and smoke. I watched other kids play in the snow while I sat chained to one of those air-compressor / nebulizer contraptions, lamenting the plight of a doughy seven year-old who never learned to make a snowball. I suffered an asthma attack literally every time I ran the physical fitness test mile in gym class. I never didn’t end up in the nurse’s office.
Somewhere around the time I obtained my learner’s permit, I got this boneheaded idea to start running, largely because I was sick of being that kid who the coaches and gym teachers and other children’s parents had to watch out for. I hated feeling defective and inferior. For the longest time, that feeling never really went away. I’d hobble across the concrete, hack up six gallons of mucus, wheeze in a register that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a lobster being boiled alive — and later turn that same color in my face. By 2008, I’d run my final race.
Five years later, I’d picked it back up, largely because, again, I hated feeling defective and inferior. I had ballooned to 210 pounds, and my nagging hypochondria convinced me I was probably dying of emphysema. Yet, I finished my first half-marathon in January 2014, and I distinctly remember that being the first time I ever truly enjoyed the act of running for its own sake. The act of putting on my headphones, making a playlist packed with my favorite music, vibing out, and wandering around the world with nowhere else to be and nothing else to think about. Bright sunshine lit my face. There was nothing to think of except the road in front of me. Concern over money, my future, my relationships, my hashtag-legacy all vanished. That’s when the light turned on for me. I’ve run six half marathons since. I’m just here for the music, the Vitamin D and the endorphin rush.
I ran my first marathon earlier this year. I finished in 6:24:45. That’s almost 385 minutes, or one for every fuck I do not give about the time.
A friend recently asked me if I’d like to see Brandi Carlile in concert for her 10th Anniversary of The Story tour. I said yes. Now, there’s three things you should know about this upcoming — ahem — story, before I dive into the rest:
- I have not seen this friend in three years.
- This is the same friend who ran my first half-marathon with me.
- I have zero idea who Brandi Carlile is.
- I am pretty emotionally raw from recent life events out of my control.
So, we meet up for drinks before, and we shoot the shit about the things you find yourself talking about when you haven’t seen each other for three years, which is always a high-voltage whiplash between “how’ve you been lately?” and “remember that time we…?” and almost nothing in between. But it was still magical. Our laughs were long. Her words reverberated off the copper walls. For a couple hours, the time melted away.
So we find some more cocktails and our seats, and Brandi Carlile takes the stage. And promptly loses her shit. Not in an angry way. In a “I-can’t-possibly-be-anywhere-else-right-now-because-I-have-nowhere-else-to-go-and-this-fucking-moment-is-all-we-have” way. Brandi (yes, after one concert, we are officially on a first-name basis) has this fucking voice, man. It is a satin alto that scrapes the rafters and could shoot bullets straight through bubbles without bursting them. And these songs, these lyrics that just absolutely devastate you. During some song — and I’m frankly not sure which, because I didn’t know any and they all blended together in the best way — I openly sobbed. Then I laughed really hard about the fact that a concert moved me to tears, when I have absolutely never cried at a show before, or even wept so much after my last three breakups. So then I spent the next two minutes awkwardly laugh-crying and cheering and just feeling warm and chills and rainbows and sufficiently Zero-G for as long as I stayed there glued to the floor of the arena.
At some point, possibly after the one drink past my expiration point, my friend and I spent the remainder of the evening woozily making out. It felt like the appropriate thing to do in a situation like that. Because you’re totally into that moment. Because that moment is all you have. Memories are abandoned, overridden, and overwritten. You are capital-p Present. I wasn’t worried about if that check cleared, or if I’ll ever die alone, or if I’ll ever buy a house in Malibu, or if my cat is secretly plotting to kill me (she is). Nothing else matters but the lips you just finished kissing and the warm sensation of an evening you just squeezed every last drop of joy out of. Shrug emoticon(?)
I spent $140 on that concert, or one dollar for every fuck I do not give about the price-tag.
My medals are tucked in a closet. I’ve lost my concert tickets. I took no pictures. I have stories, and a treasure trove of euphoria to draw upon. But all these things are results. And the results aren’t quite the things that matter, because a result only exists at a set point in time. Once it’s achieved, it’s gone. It becomes a memory, and another stepping stone that carried you to where you currently are. The farther away you get from it, the less satisfying and meaningful it becomes.
By contrast, anticipation of a future result, or constant tracking on your way toward a result you’re expecting to achieve, only exists in an intangible future sense. It never exists in reality, until it exists in the past. When you affix your self-worth to metrics and results, you are postponing your own happiness and placing it outside the realm of your control, all while — even worse — you’re convincing yourself that you’re “on your way” to being happier and more successful than ever, that you’re this close to “making it,” without realizing that once you reach where you thought was the horizon, the goalposts keep moving back and now you’ve got somewhere new to go to be happy and searching for meaning.
Think of all the diseases in this world that occur because people are attached to results instead of process. Cutthroat corporate work environments. Black Friday stampedes. Blood doping in cycling. Intellectually lazy arguments that the economy is a zero-sum game tethered to what it earns instead of what it makes, and that when one group loses it must be because another imagined outgroup is taking it from them, leading to the rise of authoritarian and nationalist governments in previously capitalist and democratic nations. Fyre Festival. Bro-flakes on Twitter yelling at A.J. Green for a lackluster fantasy football performance in a game the Bengals won by three touchdowns. Results are either memories or expectations— they are not real.
Only the present is real. Only the love we inject into it. Only the way we change with it. This is the process. The process is what we learn, what we create, what we sense. It’s how hard we love and change with it. It’s the fucks we give about the things that truly matter. When you spend your time, energy and capital learning, making and experiencing what you love, you can live more authentically, more meaningfully and more happily.
Results will come. You’ll have your stories. You’ll slay your dragons. You’ll (*grits teeth*) make your money. But they’re more like happy side-effects to a life spent in an extraordinary state of bliss, as often as you possibly get to that place. (And, yes, if you’re going to comment: “Hey, this sounds like Flow Theory.” Yup. I’ve read that book, too.)
I don’t spend 100% of my life running marathons, taking flyers on random concerts, booking impulse flights to New York City, making out with friends, loving so completely it hurts to think about, or even eating lobster rolls (which are the perfect sandwich and I will not hear arguments to the contrary). But any sort of achievement or shallow culturally-defined institutional check-box I can satisfy? They will be side-effects of the life I want to live, and not the cure for what ails me — that I can assure you.
After all, I still have asthma.