“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Full quotes, even short ones, don’t typically stick with me. I think, “Oh, that’s nice”, “inspirational”, “funny” etcetera, and then I forget about it. I don’t know where I first heard the above quote, but it is one that has never left my mind. It is also one that I gain a deeper understanding of as the years go by.
I began running and going back to school at approximately the same time. Then, I didn’t have a specific direction, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I didn’t have a definitive goal in mind. I just knew I wanted…. something. Needed… something. I began running as something that was just for me. It was mine and it belonged only to me. I’d also had babies and I really didn’t want to be fat, so there was that. I’d never been into sports, and had never done cross country, so this was new territory to me. The more I ran, the more I realized what an amazing gift our bodies are, how capable and strong they can be. I started going back to school because I’d always enjoyed school, excelled at it as a matter of fact (except in handwriting- I’m really, horribly bad at handwriting). While I loved my children and our family, I just couldn’t stay at home. Again, I needed an indefinable…. something. There was this ache, this need, there was something I needed to be doing and I wasn’t doing it. I felt like God had gifted me an ability to learn, and I owed it to myself to see where that would lead.
In the beginning, running was not a dream. It just was. I was doing something, and that was all that mattered. I started out running with the plan to just be able to run one mile. It was difficult, but I was able to do it. Then I had a friend who said, “Hey! Let’s run a half marathon!” While life took that friend and I in different directions, I’m sure if you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that those were fateful words; running long distances is now a passion. At the time, a half marathon was a scary long distance. I didn’t know if I could do it; it was well beyond my capacity. Not at all so now.
In the beginning, school and a career were not dreams. Wanting to see what I could do, I first pursued an Associate’s degree, then a Bachelor’s degree. I honestly never thought I’d finish the Bachelor’s. Not because I didn’t think I was capable but because it was intangible to me- you could almost say it was a baby dream. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it. Then, suddenly, it was done. Of course I knew when I’d have all my credits completed, and I did really well in school, and yet, I was just done so suddenly, I didn’t know what to think.
My husband mentioned once that somehow in me, my running and my pursuit of school and a career are intricately intertwined. This is true.
For me, a long race is all about breaking it down into manageable parts, staying on top of the important things (food, hydration), and keeping a steady pace. School has been that too. I broke that down into degrees (Associate’s, Bachelor’s) and when even those became such big pieces that I couldn’t handle them, I broke it down into semesters. Sometimes, when I was crying in bed because it… was… all… so… very… hard… I had to break it down into individual assignments. Sometimes that was the only way I made it through, and that also kept me on top of the important things. I had to take a little longer than many of my peers to finish school, taking fewer credits at a time, in order to keep a steady pace and be able to finish each semester. Long runs are like this. Sometimes the parts that sounded easy and manageable in the beginning are way too big. When you are crying on the side of the trail because you are puking, everything hurts and is falling apart, and you still have oh so very far to go, you must instead simply become one foot in front of the other. There is no other way to the finish line.
Upon completion of my Bachelor’s, my PhD dreams became more real, and that is when my dreams actually began to scare me. The quote from the beginning of this post is from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, from her speech to the Harvard graduates of 2011. The above quote is part of her speech wrap-up, and yet her entire closing is full of impact and meaning:
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. If you start off with a small dream, you may not have much left when it is fulfilled because along the way, life will task your dreams and make demands on you. I am, however, bullish about the future of our world because of you. We share one defining characteristic that prepares us to transform our world — we are all Harvard University graduates. When we add to that the traditional quests for excellence for which we are known, there is no telling what we can accomplish.
Go forth and embrace a future that awaits you.”
Did you catch that? “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.” I’m now scared- pursuing my PhD scares me.
Back in the fall, I entered my name into the lottery for Zane Grey. A little background; coming across the Zane Grey 50 mile trail race was the first time I’d ever heard of ultra-running. This race runs point to point on the Highline Trail from Pine to Christopher Creek near Payson, AZ. The description on the website says, “Regarded as the toughest, roughest and most beautiful 50 mile trail runs in the country.” Running this race has been a dream of mine since I first heard about it, and yet it has never been anything I thought I could ever do. My friend Kathi pushed me, as good friends are wont to do, into entering my name into the lottery (she entered her name too). In order to enter my name and even be considered I had to list my prior ultra finishes. I did so, but felt wholly inadequate, knowing I would not be chosen. I mean, this was ZANE we were talking about, and who was I? Guess what? I got in. I’m now scared- pursuing Zane scares me.
While Ms. Sirleaf’s speech was directed towards Harvard graduates, it is applicable to all people. Not all of us are Harvard graduates, not all of us will become the president of a country, and yet, every last one of us has a dream of some kind. Do you want to be a mother? Father? Astronaut? Engineer? Gardener? Runner? Hiker? Swimmer? Dreams are transforming. I know I’m not the same person I was when I began this journey. What began as an indefinable urge to DO SOMETHING has metamorphosed into definable dreams. My dreams have changed me, scared me, and will continue to change me and grow me. Perhaps as a part of this process I can have a positive, transforming impact on my little corner of the world.
PhD, Zane Grey, these bring a good scared to my soul. They are big to me. Huge. They are beyond my known capacity. What if I fail? There is always that possibility and it makes me want to throw up in my mouth… a lot. But do you know what is even scarier to me? What if I never even tried? That, my dear reader, is tinged with regret, and regret is something I will not willingly choose.