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, literal plumbing issues, and I've been missing a friend deeply. It's hard not to feel down, and yet, it's been interesting to watch myself cope: I bought a ticket to a baseball game, spoke to my sister at length, began sketching a multi-year plan, and I ran 9.5 miles.

The latter is the odd one out: I've always been handicapped by stamina, although at times I've played at self-improvement. I used to swim every day—which is to say, I spent a lot of time bobbing at the end of the lane after manic lengths. Or I would row—meaning, fight hyperventilation with mental images of crews on placid rivers. And I would run—around the block or until I was out of breath. I didn't track my progress with any seriousness, because, well, I wasn't a runner. I was happy to be active but aware of my limits.

Or was I?

A few years ago I worked with Nike on a project that opened up the subject. We asked: 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.

In my case, a year ago, after a lifetime of accepting my limits, I decided that I was unhappy with the state of my health and that I was going to be a runner.

And so I started running, following 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. Both rules allowed for flexibility while committing me to an intentional program of regularity and improvement. I slowly built capacity, gradually pushing my limits: increasing speed, distance, and time, little by little, week by week. I'm fighting bad ankles, but in the last year, I've gone from barely being able to run a mile to aiming for a half-marathon in the summer.

I hesitate to say that I'm a runner, but, you know, maybe I am! I perform it for myself, on my own terms and at my own pace, but it is something that I do. It's something I take pride in and enjoy. And in addition to increased stamina, the feeling of agency, of being able to meaningfully influence my body, my limits, and my narrative, is a gift that is 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 least, it seems like 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.