Change your personal narrative


I was that kid in gym class that never got picked for anything. When they absolutely had to pick everyone for some event, I would be almost dead last, my mortification saved only by a few kids seemingly even more athletically hopeless than I was.

Gym class is one of childhood’s traumas, and I think it strongly informed my view of my own athletic abilities. Now perhaps I would have found this out in other ways (I did play on a kiddie baseball league, and I think I hit the ball once) but it certainly was reinforced there.

And it’s amazing how these self-conceptions perpetuate themselves. I wasn’t athletic, and so I didn’t do athletic things. I didn’t try out for sports teams, because that’s what athletes do, and I wasn’t an athlete. I started hanging out with kids who listened to underground music and hacked on computers. Now, a good question to ask is whether this was my natural environment, or was it shaped by the reinforcement of being told what I was and was not good at?

A better question: does it matter?

What’s your narrative?

At some point, you need to assess the narratives about yourself and ask if they are still relevant. They will remain true forever until you actually turn inward and look at them, in which case you may find that they don’t quite fit with you anymore.

A classic example of this is a conversation I had with an old roommate about student loans. (This was before I had paid them all off.) I had long believed the myth that student loans were “good” debt, as opposed to, say, credit cards. This made me feel better about having $25,000 of “good” debt almost a decade after graduating. I gave her the spiel about “good” versus “bad” debt, like I had done with people for years, but in that moment, it no longer rang true. I no longer believed it anymore. What changed? Me.

After a bit of soul-searching, I found that I no longer believed my old narrative, and instead I believe that there really is no such a thing as “good” debt. Debt is debt, and whether it’s a student loan or a mortgage or credit cards, it’s all still something to get rid of as quickly as possible.

I, athlete?

Which brings me back to my athletic prowess, or lack thereof. I’ve considered myself Not An Athlete for so long that I’ve finally started to ask myself what that even means. I’ve never had much interest in perfecting my jump shot, true, but I do love a good hike up into the mountains (luckily I live where I do, where you can take public transit into the forest). I also enjoy a good bike ride, and like seeing the world from that vantage point.

So when I found out about the Seattle to Portland bike ride in July,it stuck in my head for some reason and wouldn’t let go.

Actually, the thought process went something like this over the course of a few days:

“That’s a ride.”
“That’s a cool ride.”
“It would be pretty cool to do that ride.”
“Wow, imagine how totally awesome it would be to do that ride.”
“I should do that ride someday.”
“I’ll do that ride someday.”
“I’ll do that ride this year.”
“I can’t do that ride; I’m not prepared!”
“I’ll sign up for it and figure it out.”

It was the should that got me. It came out of my mouth and started mocking me. “Hello, I’m a should! I’m just one big regret that hasn’t happened yet! Just wait and see!” Dammit. It wasn’t a feeling of guilt or even of obligation, but of challenge. Can I do it? I don’t know; I’ve never ridden any more than 20 miles at a time. This was 200 miles, a double century as they say in the industry.

And yet, I could imagine riding down an open stretch of back roads somewhere in southwestern Washington, the small towns giving way to the hills of Cascades to the east. I’m imagining myself pausing to look around, a warm sunny day, and realizing that I got there of my own power, not from a car or even a train. I imagine the delicious solitude of the road, with each uphill slog leading to a glorious downhill ride. This will be like nothing I’ve ever done.

Unlikely Bicyclist

There is so much pressure in our society to just kick back and let things be. Especially at the end of a long week, all we want to do is just relax. But there is a slow poison in this thinking. Although relaxation and enjoyment are necessary for a good life, I believe that working toward something—having projects—is also necessary to feeling fulfilled. You need to have something going on. And I know that you’re not content with the way everything is, so you should be finding your little corner of the world that you want to work on.

A bike ride won’t change the world, but it’s going to get me some more practice at getting out of my comfort zone. Plus, getting out of your comfort zone is actually kind of fun. And if I can ride 200 miles, me who was never willingly picked for any team in gym class, what else might I be capable of? Let’s find out.

But enough about me: What are you doing to get out of your comfort zone? And can you draw me what you think a “should” would look like?

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