Doing and Being

This has been a trying week.

For a variety of reasons, I've felt stuck: I've had frustrating travel, grey weather, plumbing issues, and I've been missing a loved one. It's hard not to feel down, and interesting to watch myself cope: I went to a baseball game, spoke to my sister, began sketching a multi-year plan, and I ran 9 miles.

This last one is the odd man out: I've always been handicapped by stamina, although at times I've fought it. I used to swim—which is to say, bob at the end of the lane. I rowed—meaning, fought hyperventilation. And I ran—until I was out of breath, basically, around the block. I didn't track progress because, what would be the point. I was happy to be active but aware of my limits.

But was I? A few years ago I worked with Nike on a project that opened up the question: at what point did a person become a runner?

We tackled the question both as a story and as a design problem, using conversation, writing, and diagramming to map out a user journey. Our visual framework mirrored how we might track a character in a film: establishing an everyday state, shifting circumstances and conflict, outside aids and influences, successes and failures, and moments of decision. This last node is where transformation occurs. In a dramatic narrative, a character, primed by habit, is given an opportunity to choose something else: a shift that comes out of new perspective and a reshuffling of priorities and values. This action is often the subject of the story, the demonstration of our protagonist's growth.

So, a year ago, after a lifetime of accepting my limits, I decided that I was going to be a runner.

I established two basic rules: first, that I should get to the gym two or three times within a seven-day span, and second, that I should build on progress. The rules allowed for flexibility while committing me to an intention. It slowly worked: I increased my speed, distance, and time, week by week. In the last year, I've gone from barely being able to run a mile to aiming for ten.

I hesitate to say that I'm a runner, but maybe I am! I perform it for myself, on my own terms and at my own pace, but running is something that I do. It's something I take pride in and enjoy. I am so much more healthy. But more than any of that, the feeling of agency, of knowing that I was able to meaningfully influence my life—and my narrative—, is a gift that has been revitalizing and expansive.

Like the characters in our stories, perhaps each of us is indeed capable of transformation, of doing something different, of making an adjustment—even when we feel stuck by travel or distance or whatever might befall us. At the very least, simple actions can get us on a path—to the gym, out of a tough week, and on to new states of doing and being.