Easing Up and Sailing Into New Waters


Push myself or ease up?

It’s a question we all must face in different areas of our life and at different points, and the answer you had yesterday isn’t necessarily the one you need now.

Ease up…

I was speaking to a friend about this the other day. My friend, let’s call her Deb, had planned to do another marathon this fall. She’s done quite a few of them, and qualified for Boston each time (which many people attempt numerous times before running 26.2 miles fast enough to BQ). Of course, Deb has a certain amount of natural talent and fast genes, but honestly, she owes most of that success to hard work and high standards. I’ve never asked Deb what her motto to life is, but if she were to tell me it’s “A job worth doing is one doing my absolute best,” I wouldn’t be surprised.

So anyway, Deb’s got too much on her plate right now, but her “fun” thing was supposed to be training for another marathon, only somehow these days, she says, running seems, ugh, just too much.

(See reference to aforementioned full plate.) “Have you ever thought of just running a marathon?” I asked. “Just to do it and not requiring that you train for such a fast time?” The difference between a training program to “just run” a marathon and to run a Boston-qualifying marathon in terms of time, physical energy, mental commitment—and well, pretty much in every way—is vast.

Deb sighed. “I’ve actually been thinking that. Or maybe even a half.” She then told me about a new friend who recently ran a marathon and is brimming with the enthusiasm of her newfound passion. This friend’s recent marathon time? “More than five hours!” Deb said. Her envy was palpable. “And it didn’t matter. She was happy just to finish it.” (Note: Shave off around two hours and you’ll be close to Deb’s finishing time.) She continued, “It’s not about the time per se, anyway, and I rarely tell people about that, and I know perfectly well that the number on the clock is something outside of you, it’s the experience of it all that you own—that’s what fills you up.”

“Hmm,” I said, “Do you hear what you’re saying? Maybe, just this once, you can relax a little and just let yourself have the experience of something without pushing yourself so hard.” I could hear the hesitancy in Deb’s voice as we continued to discuss it, because not demanding perfection from herself is definitely outside her comfort zone.

…or push yourself?

Speaking of comfort zones. As a mostly work-from-home writer and editor, barricaded behind my trusty computer, I could write a book on comfort zones. But maybe I’d like to write a book about something else. So recently, I signed up for a writing class “Six Weeks, Six Stories” at the Grub Street writing center.

Like my friend, I can also be guilty of an all-or-nothing attitude. The “I have to have this very high standard with X area, or why bother doing it at all” approach. So along those lines, I was dreading the class. It’s been a while since I’ve taken an creative writing workshop or had a writing group where I have to show my writing to other people, and when I’ve had them I was more in that mode (i.e., that was more of a comfort zone). Plus, lately I’m not even close to sure I want to write fiction (anymore). But I signed up because I felt like I needed to explore that question (and what it means for other areas) in a setting that pushed me to do so and where I couldn’t be stalled by my own perfectionistic tendencies. Well, mission accomplished already, and I’ve only had one class. Whether I write the most terrible stories in the world for this class, the necessary experience of stepping outside what’s become my comfie little bubble will spill over into many areas of my life, I suspect.

Setting sail for new waters

So last night was the first class. It began with the instructor telling us how the next few weeks would be structured. Then he told us about himself, and said, “You’ve heard of two truths and a lie?” We all nodded. It’s the “game” where you come up with two interesting things about yourself on-the-spot, and one interesting thing that sounds true, but isn’t. My stomach clenched. Not my favorite “game.”

“Well, we’re not going to do that,” he said. “This is a fiction class…”

I felt relieved for like a millisecond.

“…So after we say what we do, where we live, and what workshops we’ve had, we’ll tell just one outrageous lie and pass it off as the truth.”

I can talk with anybody one-on-one—my favorite part about journalism is talking with sources and asking them questions (I love asking questions)—but somehow put a few more people in that situation and give it a “public speaking” feel, aka, around-the-room elevator pitch, and suddenly my face flushes and my nerves began their revolt. And I haven’t been pushed to do it for a while.

“You can go next,” the instructor said, turning to me. As I was one of the people on either side of him, it shouldn’t have been that surprising, but somehow I was thinking (hoping?) I’d be last.

So that was the first five minutes. The class then continued with multiple on-the-spot writing assignments that we then had to share with a partner in all their messy, unpolished glory, and yeah, I was outside my comfort zone the whole three hours.

After the class, as I walked outside into the warm fall night, I realized I was completely wired, my nerves jangling from all that stretching they had to do. Was that comfortable? No, definitely not.

And that was a good thing.


Do you ever refrain from doing something because you won’t measure up to the yardstick of last class/race/year/etc. or because you don’t want to risk being bad?


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10 responses to “Easing Up and Sailing Into New Waters

  1. Oooh! I was in suspense imagining (and knowing) what it feels like to share work in that kind of setting. Good for you for getting out of your comfort zone. It IS the way to grow!

    And interesting point how for some the thing to try is to expect LESS of ourselves . . . to let go of the idea of what “perfect” has to be.

    • I suspect a couple of my classmates may not be back because that on-the-spot-writing, then-share-it thing=no so comfortable for everyone. But, like you say, I do think it’s good for the push! : )

      To the second point, it seems like the key is whether or not that “perfect” is appropriate to the situation or whether it’s thwarting growth/happiness/etc. So it’s the latter!

  2. Run, Karla, Run

    LOVE! Love, love this post. It’s so true on both points. There are those times when you need to give yourself a break and when you need to ask just a little bit more. Workshops are so great. I’ve done two and they were both awesome for getting my best work out of me and helping me try new things as a writer. Enjoy it!

  3. Thank you, Karla! (On both counts.) And you’re so right.

    Re: Workshops. I think when I’ve had them before, they were more in keeping with the rest of my life somehow (not sure if that makes sense). So yes, I’ve already gotten the “try new things” part! Also, I can’t remember having to share such rough writing before.

  4. Oooh… I HATE that kind of workshop, because I’m such a methodical writer, tweaking and finessing and looking for perfection with every word. Talk about uncomfortable; I’d probably have fled (though I would have enjoyed telling a big whopper lie about myself … hmm… what does that say about me?)

    Such a good point about pushing into discomfort to achieve growth!

    • I love that you’d enjoy the whopper part! : )

      And yes, sooo uncomfortable: We’ll see if it gets easier, but we already lost one person for just this reason.

  5. Good for you! I am terrified of sharing my writing with others and I’m working up the courage to do a class like this myself. I know I need to get stuff out there but like Melissa said above, I would want it to be “perfect” before anyone saw it. Maybe I would join under a fake name, just in case. 🙂

    I look forward to reading more about the class. Good luck with it!

    • Thank you, Hallie! It’s really nice to hear I’m not alone in this feeling. I *definitely* want things to be “perfect” before I show them. We’ll see if absolute discomfort works some magic.

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  7. Pingback: Three Life Lessons I Gained from My Writing Workshop | Books+Body

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