For an ever-increasing number of years, this time in the calendar year has been my intentional moment of reflection. Around this time, I have typically spent some time with my family for the holiday, some time to myself to wind down one year and prepare for the next, and some time contemplating life as another birthday soon approaches. This year has been no exception. Yet over these past few days, much of this reflection has been done while running outside, thanks to the unseasonably warm temps in late December and early January. My journey that fell into a love for running started when I moved to Boston in 2009. Never in my life did I imagine I’d run the Boston Marathon - not just once, but three times! - yet even after those experiences, plus running 16 half marathons since then, I’m still a very slow runner. While the health benefits are a great positive outcome, running for me isn’t about the speed and sweat. Instead, it’s a time where I can be totally alone with my thoughts - without technology, without distractions, and without anyone else. I kicked off this new year by running a half marathon - 13.1 gloriously chilly miles to reflect and think about life. It was fun to notice what went through my mind along the way.
As a slow runner, I have discovered that running with some kind of a timer / pacing device helps me evenly distribute my energy for the longer distances (run for 5 minutes, walk for 30 seconds). For some reason, the usual pacing timer didn’t work as planned - yet I didn’t notice for two miles! My mind was racing after I realized this change of pace - and I turned this excitement into a challenge to see how far I could really run without stopping for a walk break. On Friday, the first day of 2016, that distance was over 5.5 miles! It was such an amazing feeling! I was bummed when I finally did need to walk - being slow and running at the back of the pack equates to thinner crowds and running on the side of the road, often where the road curves to the sidewalk (this was a small race, and while the road had sparse traffic, cars were still passing on the other side of the orange cones, eliminating all possibility of running on flatter surfaces). My left foot was striking higher on the road than my right, which in turn caused my right knee to overextend and develop soreness. At first I was completely bummed that I needed to walk and help this pain ease. Yet after that initial disappointment passed, I realized how thankful I was to be out running, to feel the chilly wind on my cheeks, and to simply have the ability to put one foot in front of the other, no matter the walking or running speed. I was thankful that I could recognize the soreness in my knee, and thankful that I didn’t push myself to cause any lasting damage. I was thankful that I had the energy and enthusiasm to run 5.5 miles without a single stop. And most of all, I was thankful that I had my own story to tell - whether it be about running, about careers, or about life in general.
Telling stories is, very simply put, about communicating with one another. Stories are what we choose to share with someone else. They provide a glimpse of the individual experiences, processing and insight we bring to our life. Part of what fascinates me with meeting new people (or getting to know friends better) is learning about these individual stories. No two people have the same story, even with a shared experience. This kind of individualism brings each person to life, giving him/her a unique personality unlike any other person. (This parallels the message of this delightful TED talk - The Beautiful Nano Details of our World.) This uniqueness seems to also give insight into what drives the individual passions, motivations, work, and - frankly - the desire to wake up and do something every single day.
As I ran the 13.1 mile journey on Friday, I found myself reflecting on how important (and challenging) communications has been in my own life. It was the theme of my entire learning during the 2005-2006 orchestra management fellowship year; it was the foundation for all of my work with the Atlanta Symphony; it was a critical component for building (and growing) the EM program at New England Conservatory; it was a central theme throughout all nine of my graduate school courses; and it was the subject of what I taught as a teaching fellow in Southeast Asia this past summer. Yet with all of this experience, I still have so many unanswered questions on the topic. The most present question for me during Friday's run? How can we each be compassionate listeners to better understand those around us, yet still have the courage to communicate what is honestly on our individual minds?
While I was most definitely snoozing (pre-13.1 routines!) as the ball dropped into 2016, I fell asleep on December 31st with the image of slowly turning the page to a fresh, new chapter. I imagined the old pages filled with scribbled notes, snapshots of faces and places, and overflowing memories, and the new pages being fully blank, waiting to be filled with the life of 2016. As I continue to reflect and better understand how 2015 changed me, I look forward to filling those blank pages that are ahead with miles, with memories, with work that matters ... and with stories.