This is your life... LIVE it.
Truth be told, I never liked the phrase “enjoy the process.” I mean, what??? A card-carrying, die-hard goal-oriented Type A Personality, I never quite understood why or how these feeble, pseudo-Zen people could enjoy anything other than the goal – and more specifically, achieving the goal. “Weak-minded weirdos,” I used to think, shaking my head in disgust. But of late, probably because of this up-and-down uncertainty around my health, I’ve started to truly and deeply enjoy the process, the journey, the daily blips and blaps, the unique little details that constitute my life.
A casual conversation with my dad sparked it off. We were talking about training (track) and 2017 job prospects (medicine). I kept describing where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, when, why, how, etc. when he interrupted me. “Don’t forget,” he said, “THIS IS YOUR LIFE. You’re not preparing for anything anymore. This is IT.” For some reason, that hit me HARD. I paused. I was stunned (if I were a cartoon, I would shake my head from side to side super duper fast). This is IT! Oh my goodness, he was right. The little activities of today, the accomplishments, the failures, the fears, the hopes, and most importantly, the joys, this is IT. My entire life. There isn’t any other life “on the way,” or in the pipeline. It was as though I’d never heard that before.
As we hung up, the phrase THIS IS YOUR LIFE kept reverberating in my mind and heart, and along with the phrase came a crystal clear feeling of gratitude. Why? Well, because on the other side of that phrase, there are a few more phrases that came to mind: tomorrow is not promised, love the little things, the present is a gift, and again, tomorrow is not promised. I don’t want to go through the motions. I want to live fully. Today.
So why did I have such a hard time feeling this before? What was I afraid of? Well, I think medical training and track training are similar in their weird allegiance to delayed gratification. To be brutally honest (and Lord knows, I can’t bring myself to be anything but nowadays…), I didn’t really like the process of becoming a physician. I thought it was passive-aggressively competitive, I thought it de-valued creative thought and undermined students’ sense of purpose and self-worth from the start. I went through that mill and came out slightly shell shocked, and definitely a more cautious, closed version of myself. So that was blow #1 to my ability to truly “enjoy” any kind of long-term process.
Track can be similar. You set a goal and march backwards from that goal to determine your training plan. But the goal is priority number one. A future goal. A goal that hasn’t quite arrived yet (at least not physically…another subject all together). So you work towards something that exists at a future moment. You hope. There’s so much insecurity in that! This paradigm could make it hard for even the most zen person to really and truly enjoy the present moment, the process, and to trust it.
So thank God for Dads and for coaches who remind you (daily, weekly) that the progression is (1) never linear and (2) never as expected, so the best thing to do is your absolute best in the moment. But that’s effort. Enjoyment is what I am after. So after my chat with Dad, I started telling myself “today is all there is.” Today is the only thing that exists. There is only today. That thought alone gave me permission to become wholly and fully aware of the tiny little details of my life, to be firmly anchored in the present and to truly appreciate each moment as though I may not get another one.
So the two non-track guys at the gym who inappropriately joke with us in the middle of our heaviest training sets? I smiled at them yesterday, thinking, yes, they are an integral part of my life, today, in this moment, and I’m grateful they’re here. The kind drivers on the road who let me cut to the right from the left lane? The terrible reception I get on the radio when I get closer to the gym? That unmatched feeling right before that last set of deep squats (that moment when you need to turn up the iPod, let out a sharp exhale, say a prayer of gratitude for your spotter and look yourself directly in the eye in the mirror in front of you, thinking, “man…I may or may not hit these but here goes nothing…!”)…? All of it. I allowed myself to fully experience, embrace, and enjoy all of it. Because today really is all there is.
This process, this journey, this IS the substance of your life – the material substance of your life-energy and unique purpose on earth. This is IT. So eat it up, contribute to it wholly, engage without fear but with faith, without grumbling but with gratitude, without expectation but with effort, and enjoy the process.