Cross country is a wonderful sport…strange, but wonderful. I’ll never forget the time a dear friend came to see me run in college and after my race she walked up and said, “Well, that was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. The gun went off and all the runners took off running and the spectators took off running and everyone was running and I didn’t know what the hell was going on!”
She was right. A lot of running takes place at a cross country meet! Far more, in fact, than the 5km (or 10km!) that make up the actual race.
If you’ve ever been to a cross country meet, you’ve no doubt seen runners jogging the course before the start of the race. This may seem a odd to all you nonrunner-types. No doubt most would chalk it up to runners’ insanity because only a truly insane person would jog 3 miles before going to run 3 miles, right?! And what’s worse is that very few of them start from the middle of the course either! Most of those wacky runners jog it from the start line to the finish chute.
I’m here to tell you that those people are not the running weirdos you think they are. In fact, all that jogging is almost as important as the race itself because that warmup jog is where the plan gets formulated. As they jog the course they note any dips or tree roots that might cause them to stumble or roll an ankle. They note hills where they’ll need to power up and stride down. They note mile markers so they know exactly where to throw in a little surge or begin their final kick. That warmup is all about planning. Strategy. It’s where each runner has the opportunity to get a mental advantage before the pain kicks in and the desire to throw in the towel threatens to overwhelm them.
Most of us embrace planning for things that we are looking forward to or things that we know are necessary. But how many of us have ever planned what we will do when that menacing four-letter word, F-E-A-R, rears its ugly head? The truth is that most of us simply react when we feel fear creeping in. We get that feeling in the pit of our stomachs and our first instinct is to make it stop and the easiest way to do that seems to be by quitting, walking away, or giving up. I’ve never met a single person who can’t rattle off a list of times that they gave up on a dream, shied away from an opportunity, abandoned a goal, ended a relationship, or simply stopped trying at something that was really important to them simply because they were afraid.
Facing our fears takes real courage. It takes courage to look them in the eye and name them: fear of failing, fear of being vulnerable, fear of getting hurt, fear of inadequacy, fear of being rejected. But simply naming them isn’t enough to conquer them. If we want to get “unstuck;” if we want to move forward, we must be willing to take the next step and analyze why we feel that fear. We must be willing to swim in the murky waters of self-awareness for a while.
For some of my clients this perhaps the hardest part of our coaching conversation. But digging in and figuring out where you are now and how you got to this place is essential for anyone who wants to move forward. The bad news is that this is sometimes highly emotional and there aren’t any shortcuts here. The good news is that this is the warmup…this is jogging the course…this is where the plan begins to take shape.
Once you can clearly articulate the starting line, the warmup begins. You think about the goal off in the distance…the dream you have in your heart… the opportunity you don’t want to walk away from again. You can begin to plan what you’ll do when there’s a dip or a hill on the course. How you’ll handle it when fear pops up like a tree root and threatens to make you stumble and lose your footing because this is the inevitable during the race!! No course is perfect; no journey toward our goals or our dreams or our callings is ever doubt-free. Every single one of us will encounter the doubt or feel the fear and if we don’t have a plan for how we will overcome them then we will have what the amazing poet Langston Hughes termed “A Dream Deferred.”
This one, beautiful life you’ve been given is your race, friends. And even if you don’t believe it, the Lord created you with a purpose and a plan. He has dreams and desires for your life that would put your wildest dreams to shame! And at the end of it all there is a finish line. The question isn’t, “Will you get there?” The question is, “How will you get there?”
You can make your way there carrying the heavy burden of all those dreams deferred….of all those goals you got scared and gave up on. Or you stride toward your finish line, exhausted but exhilarated, because you leaned in to every hill and powered your way up; you felt the fear but you ran with your plan….you found the courage to conquer it.
You are the only one who can plan your “how.”
Plan wisely, my friend.