|January 3, 2013||Posted by Lauren under LifeontheRun|
Last night, after a wonderful, relaxing extended holiday with family, Evan and I returned to a house that was, in a word, freezing.
Sometime while we were gone, the heat stopped working. We have an old (drafty) house with old equipment, and apparently a draft had caused the pilot light to go out. I have no real idea of how long ago that happened – all I know that is that the temperature was already lower than the lowest setting on the thermostat, and with the sun going down, it was only going to continue to drop.
After our attempts at being handy and fixing the issue ourselves failed, we bit the bullet and called the heating company for a last minute (expensive) emergency visit. They informed us they would send someone out – but that it’d be a least an hour.
I was immediately annoyed. At Evan. At myself. At our crappy old house. At my inability to control everything. At the fact that this wasn’t exactly the wonderful “Welcome back to Vermont!” homecoming I had envisioned. My thoughts quickly went from “this is a minor inconvenience” to panic mode:
OMG we’re going to freeze. Our pets are going to freeze. And then our pipes will freeze and burst and our house will be destroyed and we’ll have nowhere to live and it’s freezing out and I can’t feel my toes or stop shivering, and why isn’t the stupid heat starting up?? Get me out of here!!
Obviously not the most productive reaction to an already crummy situation.
Unfortunately, I have a tendency to be a bit dramatic in uncomfortable situations…or in situations that don’t quite live up to my ideal expectations. This character flaw has been with me since I was a kid. I would put such high expectations on things that when they didn’t turn out exactly the way I had originally pictured, I’d be disappointed and upset. Instead of finding the positives in a situation gone awry, I would count the entire thing as a failure.
This sort of dichotomous thinking (where things in my head were either classified as “all good” or “all bad”) doesn’t really get you very far in life. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, just as most situations are not completely bad. Life is not black and white – it’s full of grey area. And learning to accept and live in that grey area is an important part of growing up.
I have worked hard throughout most of my adult life to escape this tendency for dichotomous thinking. To embrace the grey area. But in certain situations, I still find myself focusing on the negative – and letting one negative experience shape how I view the bigger picture.
Take this past year, for example. Every year has its ups and downs, but in truth 2012 was probably the best year of my life. I got engaged, planned a wedding, moved to Vermont (a place I have wanted to live my entire life), spent the month of June celebrating my wedding with all the people I love most in this world and traveling to the Caribbean, started a new life with Evan, gained a ton of extra free time (which has its advantages and disadvantages, I’ll admit), hiked and ran around Vermont, traveled all over visiting friends and family, ran 2 amazing relays, an unplanned marathon, and a few other fun races. I have faced more change this year than any other in recent history. That in and of itself is a pretty exciting accomplishment.
But for awhile, I didn’t really see it that way. Instead, I focused on the many months of running I missed due to my stupid injury and the time it took me to get back into shape. I thought of the lofty running goals I set and how I didn’t reach any of them. I thought about how I didn’t PR in any distance, or really improve at all. And I thought about how I lost a really good job and became (for the most part) unemployed. How I’ve had a really hard time finding full time work here and how stressed I allow myself to get over the fact that I am doing little to contribute to the family financially. I focused on these shortcomings and got ready to write 2012 off as a frustrating year, ready to get to 2013 and start over.
It looks so silly when I type it out. So melodramatic and immature. Fortunately I can say that all it took was a little bit of self-reflection to realize just how dumb I was being. The downs that I experienced this past year were relatively minor and normal. It’s just the cycle of life. And in the end, I’d say that everything worked out pretty wonderfully. So what if I didn’t run a ton of races or have a bunch of shiny new PRs to show for it. Does anyone really care what my marathon or 5K PR is anyway? Sure, I love improvement, but that PR certainly doesn’t define me. It’s not going to get me a job interview or a raise in life. In fact, no one besides my family and running friends is even remotely interested in how long it takes me to run 26.2 miles.
On New Year’s Eve, when Evan and I were reflecting on this past year and everything that has happened, I realized just how often I slip into this way of thinking. Of classifying an experience as “bad” simply because it didn’t turn out as wonderful as I had planned. And letting my running accomplishments (or lack thereof) impact how I feel about myself. Even if I’m able to take a step back and eventually realize how crazy I’m being, I hate that this is my gut reaction. And frankly, it needs to stop.
I don’t normally make resolutions for the new year. I much prefer setting goals – they are more concrete and often include relatively defined steps I can take to achieve them. But this year, I think I could benefit from one simple resolution: to gain a little perspective. And to stop reacting so negatively to little setbacks.
Which brings me back to last night. And my ridiculous fit when we couldn’t get the house to warm up. The fit that was only making a bad situation worse.
I realized I was doing exactly the thing I had resolved not to do, only a day after I had resolved to stop doing it. (Work in progress, I suppose). So I snapped out of it, put some pots of water on the stove and stood right there in the kitchen with Evan – bundled in our winter coats and ski socks, drinking tea in the warmth of the steam from the boiling water. We still had electricity, warm clothing, a roof over our heads, and each other. In other words, things could’ve been a whole lot worse.
As we waited for the repairmen to come fix the heat, we warmed our hands in front of the steam and talked about our trip, our plans for the year, and what we could do to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. And for the first time ever, I felt a wave of gratitude for our electric stove.
We ate soup huddled under a blanket and dressed in layers. I set Koli up under a bunch of blankets and tried to convince the cats to stay near us (stubborn little buggers wouldn’t have it, though). And then at 8:00, after the heat was fixed and we started the long wait for the house to sloooooooooowly warm itself back up, we crawled into bed to watch the season finale of Homeland on the computer. Was it the best way to spend an evening? Not exactly. But, I have to admit that in the end, it was kind of fun.
I have high hopes for 2013. Things I want to accomplish, ways in which I want to grow. As excited as I am for the new year, however, I realize that it’s not going to be perfect. Life never is. I may not be able to control everything that’s going to happen this year, but I can control how I react to it.
Here’s to a fresh perspective in 2013.