Do the Next Thing: Thoughts on Writing, Running, and Life

As some of you know, I’m writing a book about recovering from a life of performance and perfectionism. Subscribe here to get early access! 

Writing is a lot like running. The hardest part is often simply getting started. Before I go for a run, I sometimes pause and try to rationalize my way out of it.

Woman above the cityDo I really want to go out in the fog? Do I really want to get all sweaty? Do I really want to feel the burn in my legs and the cold in my lungs?

As I ask myself these questions, I simply do the next thing: I put on my workout clothes and lace up my shoes. I pull up the run tracker on my phone and pick my playlist (usually something poppy and upbeat to motivate me or worship music, since running is one of my favorite ways of communing with God). Before I know it, I’m out the door and on my way. Even my overly-analytical mind can’t compete with legs that are ready to run.

The process of writing is extremely similar. I love writing – just like I love running. I know it’s benefits, and I know I will love it once I start. But it’s not as romantic as it may seem. It’s not like locking yourself away in a cozy cabin or beautiful beach house, getting inspired, and letting the words pour out of you. It is an amazing, inspiring, transformative process. But like most life-altering pursuits, writing can be painful or just plain hard. It takes initiative, momentum, and a constant placing of one foot – or one word – in front of the next.

Since returning from my month-long sabbatical, keeping up the momentum of writing my book on recovering from perfectionism has certainly been difficult. The silence on this blog over the last couple weeks is evidence of that. But as my primary writing focus right now is on the book, I’m trying to prioritize that, and let the blogging come as it may.

So far, that seems to be working well. I carve out time in my week to write with a goal of drafting at least one chapter per week over the next several weeks.

That’s another way in which writing and running are so similar. If I don’t schedule my workouts, they probably won’t happen. I have to treat writing and running like anything else that gives life – eating, sleeping, working, resting, worshipping, gathering together with friends. If I go too long with any of these things, my overall health suffers.

But I don’t want to get too regimented about it either. Some authors have advised me to prioritize the book above other commitments. But that doesn’t sit right with me. I have a job I love and people I care for deeply. So, I will absolutely set the book aside in order to have an important conversation with a friend or take care of household responsibilities.

I think that’s what balance is all about: holding everything loosely.

There are some pursuits that bring life and fill you with love and joy. And there are others that require the pouring out of your love and the sharing of your life and time. By understanding the value of each side of the equation and evenly distributing those pursuits throughout your days, you will find balance.

But the struggle is real.

Even the life-giving pursuits aren’t always as joyful as we anticipate. Sometimes, my writing process is full of stops and starts. It can be halting and slow, and that’s when I have to just pour out all the words without stopping to evaluate. Write first, edit later. Or, I may have to go back to God’s word, asking him to reveal truth to me and remind me that he’s the only one who can inspire my work.

The same is true with running – or any form of exercise. I always know it’s going to be good for me – for my body, my mind, my soul. I know I’ll end up glad that I did it. But there are times when I’m lacking the motivation to exert all that energy. And there are times when things just don’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. Maybe my knee starts acting up. That’s when I know to pull back a little. Or maybe I’m not keeping the pace I’d hoped to. That’s when I offer myself grace and just enjoy the process.

Even tonight as I prepared for my after-work run, I questioned whether I really wanted to go out into the cold. I’d hoped to make it home in time before the fog rolled in from the beach, but as soon as the train exited the tunnel in Cole Valley, I knew those hopes were unrealistic. My neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, was encased in fog. And yet, I could tell the sun was fighting to break through the clouds. It was trying to keep us basking in the unusually warm weather we’ve been having in San Francisco the past few days.

Rather than lament the fog, I decided to side with the sun, and just start running towards the blue skies. As my feet hit the pavement and the music pulsed in my ears, my heart flooded with waves of joy. Gratitude for the city I live in, the people I love, the mission of my company, the house that truly feels like home, and the body that can carry me through Golden Gate Park for as many miles as it feels able to that day.

The run wasn’t perfect. The wind coming from the beach was a powerful force to fight against. But rather than view it as an enemy, I saw it as a challenge, an invitation. A way to push myself a bit harder on this run, to see if I could get just a bit stronger.

Sometimes the clouds threatened to take over, but I had faith that if I just kept running, I’d eventually be rewarded with sun and blue sky.

And I was. Small patches of blue stood out in the east as the setting sun cast a pale glow over the Conservatory of Flowers. And I was struck once again by the beauty and mystery of this life and this city.

Life is like a long run. It is equal parts tiring and magnificent. It requires tremendous effort and also an open mind.

These days, I’m learning more and more just how important it is not to rush. God has designed this life for our enjoyment. Of course, it’s not perfect since we live in a fallen world. And yet, he’s so good that he even uses the consequences of our sin (or the sin against us) and the hard circumstances of this world for our betterment. And he’s created such a beautiful path for us to walk and run along. There are flat roads that allow us to catch our breath, and hills that push us to grow and change, and stunning vistas that remind us of the truth:

We don’t create any of this beauty or goodness. Our job is just to enjoy it.

There’s so much to see, so many people to partner with along the way, and I don’t want to rush it. I want to enjoy each step of the journey, giving myself grace to pause and rest when I need to, and carrying on at a pace that steadily feeds my soul and gives me energy to pour back into others.

Whether in writing or running or loving or working – I want less hustle and more heart. Less anxious worrying and more peaceful waiting. Less guilt and more grace.

That’s my prayer for you too.

Where do you need a little push? And where might you need to slow your pace just a bit?

Whatever your circumstances, I hope you can lace up your shoes or put pen to paper and just do the next thing. And in the fog and in the sun, may you find the joy that comes with a balanced life. A life of giving and receiving, of pouring out and being poured into. A life held loosely. A life full of love.

One thought on “Do the Next Thing: Thoughts on Writing, Running, and Life

  1. Pingback: Whitworth Calling: On Work, Worry, and Existential Breakthroughs | Waiting for the end of the sentence…

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