Competing goals

Two weekends ago, James built our first raised bed. While researching what to plant in there, I read about companion planting, the practice of planting two types of plants together to produce conditions that enhance both plants (e.g., tomatoes and cabbage: tomato plants repel a kind of moth which eats cabbage leaves.) 

I love the idea that planting two things together can make both grow into healthier and stronger plants than if either were planted alone. 

~~METAPHOR TIME~~

Now halfway through my training for the Kentucky Derby Marathon, I'm reflecting on my race goals and why I haven't exactly been training like a rockstar. I was mum on my 2014 goals because, while I have one marathon-related goal, most have nothing to do with running at all. I imagined that all my goals would form tomato & cabbage-style pairs that would flourish together, but instead, they're competing for my attention. Some of them are even in direct conflict with one another.

I mentioned in my last post that I like when people write about their non-running lives, so I can get a sense of how they're able to make time for running and training. I realized after posting that I rarely talk about own my non-running life, so here's a quick list of what I'm up to this spring:

  • Work: I'm pretty into my job these days, and it's often hard to pull myself away from work in the evening.
  • I'm taking a series of courses in data science next month to finally learn machine learning and tune up my programming skills. 
  • I ran for and was elected to the board of directors for bike group that's trying to make city-level change (and put on fun local bike events).
  • I started working with a nonprofit to do something on North Carolina voter ID issues (you might have heard this story?)
  • A friend and I started a women's career & consciousness-raising group at our organization.
  • I've been on a sort of spiritual learning journey that involves some reading and lots of talking to people about their faith and spirituality. In November I started regularly going to Quaker meetings.
  • I'm teaching myself to play the piano (a recurring resolution I am finally going to accomplish in 2014.)
  • Riding: I am so happy to get back into riding again but this is one of the biggest obstacles to my running goals, simply because while the things I mentioned before take up my time, but they don't physically wear me out. Riding is its own workout, and the few times I've gone running and riding in a single day have left me as wiped as if I'd run a double. (Not complaining, obviously -- this is all stuff I choose to do for fun. Mad respect for all the people who work on their feet all day and still find the time and energy to train seriously.)
  • Other things that have stayed constant: my relationship, family, friends, going to shows, reading, etc.

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When watching the Olympics, I spent a good amount of time in awe, thinking about what the accomplishment of getting to the Olympics means in terms of hours trained and years of sacrifice. As ridiculous and navel-gazing as this is to think about, I've often wondered how good I might become at something if I devoted myself completely to it, whatever "it" might be. (I worked for an Olympic gold medalist in an apprentice-type role after college, just to add some context to this otherwise absurd thought exercise.) 

Of course, I'm not going to be an Olympic runner or equestrian, or world-caliber in probably anything ever, but I do take my goals seriously. Because it's rare for my multiple goals to reach companion planting-level synergy, I believe that to get truly excellent at something it must be pursued with single-minded focus. Without this focus, every day is an opportunity to choose my favorite goal-child and resent another. And instead of being grateful that I can choose to spend my time in all of these various, essentially selfish ways, I have been fixating on (and allowing myself to be made anxious by) the costs of having competing goals.

The most frustrating cost is that progress is slow. I fantasize about devoting myself completely to one thing or another, cutting off my access to everything else, and getting incredibly competent at whatever is currently capturing my imagination (machine learning, for example, or marathon running.) I know that this is completely at odds with the kind of life I want to have, and would undermine lots of other goals that are also important to me. But still: Reading blogs and being imbibed with daily training updates from impressive runners makes it easy to get a little carried away and imagine how I might start running 40, 50, 60 miles a week. Even though I know most of the people who run 60+ miles per week are usually making significant sacrifices for their running, FOMO happens. Similarly, it's hard seeing my peers from my graduate program get killer jobs in coastal cities. But in both cases, it can't be said enough: Whatever someone else is doing is part of their plan, not mine. 

One of the most difficult parts of this chapter of my twenties is being patient. By now, I've started living the life I wanted five years ago, and my goals are less about radical life change, and more about thinking bigger thoughts about the same things, if that makes sense. My goals are a little bigger and they take more time to achieve. In running, for example, my 2011 goal was to simply start running. Eight weeks later I'd done it, thanks to Couch to 5k. My next goal was to run a half marathon, which about three months of training. My third goal was to run a marathon, which took about a whole year, all things considered. Now, I want to qualify for Boston, which (I think) will take at least until Fall 2015, on top of what I've already put in. Maybe longer!

So I'm trying to be patient with myself. I think one-year resolution plans are too short to accomplish a set of unrelated, competing goals. Instead, I keep a five-year plan, and each year has a priority area (spoiler alert: 2014's isn't running). 

If anyone's made it this far, tell me anything you want! Is anyone else struggling to focus on whatever's most important to you right now?