Let me begin by saying I’m fine.
We’re riding this little heat wave in Minneapolis, like much of the country, and my new apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. So I sweat. Whether I sit completely still, sleep, or move around unpacking boxes and tubs, I sweat. The only difference is the amount of sweating – movement takes it from a “sheen” to “pouring out of my skin”. Since sweat was happening anyway, and RAGBRAI starts on Sunday, I decided a long bike ride was in order. For some reason, sweating always feels better outside and as the result of physical exertion.
I knew something wasn’t quite right within the first hour, when I had already emptied my water bottle and was dreaming of stopping for something cold to drink. Mind you, I planned to ride between 4-6 hours, which would hopefully net about 60 miles of road. I had to stop at 9.8 miles – I’m not usually really warmed up for a long ride until double that distance. So I stopped at a restaurant and drank a large glass of iced tea, followed by another of iced water. I refilled my water bottle, then ate. I’d guess I had about 96 ounces of liquid, plus my lunch, sloshing around in my stomach when I took off again – bad idea. I was not feeling well, but I had a goal in mind and I intended to get there. So I pushed on.
Let’s just say another 90 minutes of riding saw unpleasantness happening – and my water bottle was drained again. At this point, I was way out on a trail near nothing – no people, no businesses, no shade. Now, I had no choice but to push on. To be very clear – I was miserable.
Eventually, I reached a shopping center and stopped again. A bottle of water, a glass of ice, and a tall iced coffee in my possession, I took a seat in the shade and watched the clock – I intended to sit still for a full half hour. Then I would decide whether to continue riding or just head the last couple of miles home. Happily, the thirty minutes resulted in a refreshed Jenion. I took the scenic route home, circling both Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun before heading for my apartment – where I took a long cool shower and applied medicated powder to areas of chafing and heat rash.
The reason I am sharing this story is that it contains a lesson I’ve been slow to learn in my life – namely, knowing when to push and when to ease off. In observing myself, I’ve discovered that I often make exactly the wrong choice – I push when it would be in my own best interest to ease off, and I ease off when it would be best to push.
This summer a magnifying glass seems to be focused directly on this issue for me – interpersonally, psychologically, emotionally. When I began making plans for the time I would be between jobs, it looked very different from how it has turned out. I was pushing hard and applying for jobs I couldn’t possibly imagine myself doing, driven by fear and panic. Every single one of those applications resulted in rejection – though some were quite lovely and thoughtful rejections (“We actually think you’d be a good fit for us, just not in this position.”) The message eventually came through – I was unclear about my direction, and running around in circles just to be able to say I was trying was not a productive use of my time and energy. Relaxing into a two-month hiatus from pushing on the employment front has not been easy – no matter how it may look from the outside. But it has led to some amazing experiences of joy when I can release into being in the exact moment I am in.
A perfect example was the Basilica Block Party last weekend. Back in May, Mike suggested we sign up to volunteer, and we did so in spite of my complete lack of knowledge about the event, and the fact that it would be my first weekend living in my new city (even though at the time, I was still hedging on whether I would choose Minneapolis). Our job was to wander the venue and self raffle tickets – something I would normally hate. But I was free from expectations – my own or anyone else’s – and it was a fun and engaging experience on several levels.
When it comes to interpersonal interactions, I have always been the equivalent of a dancer who steps on her partner’s toes. When I can relax and let things flow between myself and another, things go really well. The four days I spent with the Dennis’ in Cedar Rapids between my trip to New Mexico and my move to Minneapolis were perfect in this way. But when I get all bottled up with unspoken expectations and emotions, or I am untruthful or withholding of my feelings in order to maintain stasis, it always leads to pushing at the wrong moments, stepping on toes. So I have been trying to notice the moments when this is occurring and back up, take a better more true run at it. Here’s an example: on Sunday I got together with my grad school friend, Kathe (which was wonderful, by the way). Later, I was telling Mike about Kathe’s feeling that I should be writing for submission, looking for ways to make a living with this talent and endeavor that I love. Mike said, “And did you roll your eyes at her like you always do at me when I say that?” I started to pooh-pooh the idea that I roll my eyes at him, to deny his experience and push my own version. The truth is, I probably have looked at him as if he has two heads. But it isn’t because I discount his opinion. It is because the idea of going after what has always been a dream is so scary. So I backtracked, and told Mike, “I’m going to say this, for the record: I have always appreciated your support and encouragement about my writing. It means a lot to me. If I’ve rolled my eyes, it isn’t because of what you said, its because I haven’t known how to respond.” Which led to a brief but important push on Mike’s part – when he ended the conversation with the question, “What do you have to lose?” Touché, Mike, touché.
Pushing to achieve something – an accomplishment, a better understanding in relationships, personal growth – is a good thing and definitely has its place. I don’t want to stop pushing myself. But pushing for the sake of sticking with a plan that isn’t working, or to manage feelings of insecurity or fear, is rarely a good or beneficial idea. The same is true for easing off – doing so in order to create time and space for growth, to allow an interpersonal interaction to develop naturally, or to regroup are all good. Easing off in order to avoid hard truths or to maintain false amity with others is a self-betrayal. Figuring out which is called for in a particular moment is a skill – and like all skills it improves with practice. Sometimes, like on my bike ride yesterday, you learn the hard way how to recognize whether to keep pushing or to ease off. Luckily, at other times, you learn through making the right choice – and those are the lessons I’m learning to cultivate this summer.