Another piece I wrote this past summer. The setting is no longer relevant, but I believe the development and conclusion are. Let me know what you think!
A friend and I went for a run the other day. We headed down-town to grab a quick cup of coffee and then run back. It seemed a nice day to run, a bit of sun and a breeze. I asked for and expected a leisurely run; something to get the juices flowing and a start to work away three weeks of vacation in the US. I was motivated and feeling good about myself, feeling good about my decision to exercise. But as is often the case, the day turned out slightly different than planned and my brain played catalyst in changing a simple run into something much more meaningful. Or slightly odd at least.
So, this friend is going to participate in the 2012 Urbanathlon in Amsterdam. The Urbanathlon is a 14,5 km. long race with 29 obstacles on the way: jumping over cars, climbing walls, walking over beams, shimmying across ropes, you name it. And on our run he suggested we try to do similar exercises. Make it a kind of parkour-esque run with improvised, obstacle related challenges as we go along. Fun, right? Not at all leisurely, but hey, I wasn’t about to whine.
We started running and quickly found out that the breeze was warm and the air was humid. More than humid, it was damn near wet. Before long it felt like we were running in soup and around that time my friend thought it’d be a great idea to run up and down a hill as fast as we can. Three times. And then, we climbed an electrical grid transformer shed. And then, pull-ups in a kids’ playground.
Now, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was around that third obstacle that I had totally forgotten about my intentions for a leisurely work-out and the pain coursing through my entire body. And as far as I can remember clearly, it was somewhere between the third and fourth obstacle that a strange realization hit me. Was it due to light-headedness? An over-abundance of endorphins making me high? I’m not sure, but as it’s wont to do, my brain went the way of the (not entirely necessary) philosophical. Stick with me now, because I need to elaborate just a little bit more to illustrate how I got to where I’m going.
Alright, it’s no longer about the run, nor the different obstacles we tackled on the way. As soon as the click hit me it was all about the search for obstacles. As we were running along, I kept pointing at things and panting out the accompanying question: “Obstacle?”. Some we tackled, some we passed by, but I kept on saying it. Exactly the same way and with the exact same intent. Imagine saying it – “Obstacle?” – between breaths, exhausted, with that characteristic questioning lift of tone at the end and, most importantly, with hope. Or maybe not entirely hope, but something akin to gleeful anticipation. Just something that exemplifies the expectation of something good in the near future. The opposite of an obstacle.
Bam! Paradoxical random morning exercise brainstorm! Alright, calm down, it’s not that great a revelation. But at the time it was an epiphany to me. That contradiction of concept and intent provided me with a never before experienced level of understanding of the age-old mantra ‘life is what you make it’.
After a short bout of irrational self-loathing for thinking like a hippie and a bit of food and rest, the thought and understanding solidified to a clear, if somewhat convoluted, idea: life is indeed what you make it, but the tools you are given with which you must construct that life are not always tools that you would choose, nor are they tools you would necessarily know what to do with.
I kept on looking forward to encountering an obstacle. My focus on future opportunities was laced with positive feelings, yet the word I used is a quintessentially negative one. The word ‘obstacle’ is actually used to indicate difficulties and problems and not just physical, but emotional difficulties as well. Who hasn’t heard a self-help guru bandy about the phrase “overcoming life’s obstacles”?
Maybe I should have used the word ‘challenge’. ‘Challenge’. A word fraught with opportunity. An obstacle that holds the possibility and expectation to be overcome, to be taken on and conquered. But I didn’t. If I did, then nothing about that run would have been special, philosophically significant. To some the word ‘challenge’ can be daunting, but it is inherently positive. It implies development, growth, victory. It wouldn’t have sparked that feeling of dissonance I had as I used the paradoxically positive use of the word ‘obstacle’.
So as I write, I realize that my convoluted addendum to ‘life is what you make it’ could be made more concise: rather than ‘life is what you make it’, how about ‘life is made by you’.