Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why we do what we do

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why it is that you do what you do? I'm not just talking about work, although that would be a good place to start. Sure we tend to work because we need to pay our bills but why do you work where you work? Why do you do the kind of work that you do? Was it your only choice? Is it still your only choice?

When I was in grad school at UC Santa Barbara after serving two tours in the Republic of South Korea, I met quite a few other grad students who came from foreign countries to include many from Europe. One day, in between classes, I was sitting with some of the foreign students and we were sharing our experiences of living in a foreign country. An observation made by one of the foreign students was - "Americans live to work. In Europe we work to live."

Now this can be taken many ways but whenever I reflect on this conversation I come to appreicate it more and more as true. Look around and you'll see many people in jobs they don't enjoy. I mean really, really don't enjoy. There are days I don't enjoy my job - IT support for a government agency - especially when people yell at me and expect the moon, but overall I really like and enjoy my job. It's challenging, it's mentally and physically stimulating and it's more than just job security. I'm very happy about that, but my job is just part of who I am, albeit a large part of my life and certainly impacts on how I experience other parts of my life. Still, I'm finally beginning to feel the shift from living to work, to working to live.

I just returned from a run. It's my short run for the week, 3 1/2 miles, but it ended up being a very difficult run for me. My asthma has been acting up for the past week and this is my biggest challenge to running. I grew up in Los Angeles and it's not until I moved to Chicago after leaving the army that I developed chronic asthma. Guess I'm better off when I can see the air I'm breathing! Anyway, getting oxygen into my system to motiviate my leg muscles to work is a real challenge when I'm wheezing. Oh, I use my inhaler 20 minutes before -and on this run I had to use it during the run - and I'm on several different medications to help me breathe and prevent my asthma from acting up, but act up it does.

I have allergy-induced asthma and whenever the weather changes I tend to have a reaction. Most days it's more than manageable but today and for the past several days, my asthma has been gallantly trying to interfer with my running progress. So, you might ask - why do I even run in the first place! I mean one bad asthma attack and I'm a goner, and believe me there have been days when I've really struggled to breathe. I remember one day at work, my co-worker told me that I looked just plain grey. I was struggling to breathe and I went home early. The next morning I went in late not having slept very well the night before. When she saw me she almost hugged me. She said she had been very worried when I was late because the night before a friend of hers - much younger than me - had died in his sleep from an asthma attack.

So, why do I run? Well, I do like to challenge myself but I take my asthma very seriously. I pace myself based on how I feel and I've even cut some runs short because I listen to my body and even though I'm use to pushing myself beyond what I think my limits are (you can take the girl out of the army, but you can't take the army out of the girl!) I don't mess with my asthma.

My long run for the week is usually on a Sunday morning. Mornings are better, especially a Sunday morning, because few cars have been out and the air is the most pollutant free and less dense than it is later on in the day. Two weeks ago I ran 7 strong miles but this past Sunday I had to cut my run short only logging 5 1/2 miles. For folks who don't run, you're probably thinking, "That's great!" but I'm prepping for the Chicago Half-Marathon and I want to get my long run as close to 10 miles as I can. I ran this race in 2006 and I know I can finish it but in 2006 when I ran the race it was two weeks shy of my one-year anniversary from a radical hysterectomy. Still, I ran 8 1/2 miles before I had to walk/run and finished in just over three hours. This time I want to get as close to 2 1/2 hours as I can.

So, what's the point to all this? The point is to answer the question - why do we do what we do? I run because I can and because given all that I've shared in this blog, it's a challenge for me. The fact that I can challenge myself against certain odds while still preserving my well-being is quite rewarding and makes me appreicate each and every day that I am alive and doing well. I run because it helps me not take anything for granted - not my health, not my freedom, not anything. My aches and pains are real but I know which ones are temporary and which ones are warning signs. It's because I run and challenge myself that I'm able to be this aware of myself, my health, my body and my surroundings.

I am also a writer. I have published non-fiction works but I will soon be submitting my first novel to a publisher for consideration. I have been working on this novel for more than four years. I'm in what I feel is that last major rewrite and I'm on page 205 of a 260 page novel. I'm ecsatatic! Don't know if it will actually be published but I'm very satisfied with my efforts. I've learned so much in the process about writing in general and about myself.

I write and run because I can. I write and run because I can't imagine not doing either of these things. I write and run because to stop now would be akin to a part of me dying. I write and run because I want to continue to learn about who I am for the rest of my life.

That's why I do what I do.

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