In a 3 mile cross country race, there’s several phases. There’s the start, full of energy, anxiousness, nerves, hope, and stampeding around to try to get out of the pack and get ahead. Then, most people settle down, take note of their position and surroundings, and settle into a pace they believe they can maintain. And then things get hard.
The third stage is when things start to hurt. Your breath is laboring, the lactic acid in your muscles builds up as each step gets heavier and heavier. You’re shaking off the stiffness in your arms every 5 seconds as you struggle to pull out of the moment and think about how to advance. But there’s still determination and hope. You grit your teeth and push on.
The fourth stage comes about 2/3 of the way in. It’s where you face your expectations, weeks/months of preparation, and how bad you really really want to keep pushing head on. This is The Wall. And you don’t always go through this phase. Sometimes you have a great, controlled race, and you’ve prepared so well for the day that you’ll pass this phase in a blink as you round the final corner. But if you were to compare portions of your life to a three mile race (like I’m doing today), you’ll face a wall or three. Today we’ll talk about that fourth part, The Wall, and how I got past the one I faced while in Shanghai.
This winter, I came across a few blocks, or plateaus, in terms of professional and personal growth. Being too far away from dates where I could start actively searching for my next adventure, having little motivation to write and topics to write about, budgeting to pay off taxes and bills back home, and waning motivation that seemed to drop with the temperature, you could say that the winter put me in a little bit of a rut.
The first step out of any pit you find yourself stuck in is to visualize and clearly see where you want to go. For me, that meant evaluating what I wanted in terms of my environment- from something as surface-level as the weather, to deeper things, like economic strength, community, culture, and opportunity.
After you visual yourself past the ‘wall,’ there’s only one thing to do- start chipping away. You won’t miraculously break through all at once; it takes effort and intention. Professionally, this meant updating my resume, preparing job materials (looking at different certificates I could get), positioning myself and my skills in a way that would make me valuable to organizations that I want to contribute value to.
With my teaching job, I had definitely hit sort of a slump, in that I got no fulfillment or enjoyment from the work. I got past this not by forcing myself to enjoy work I don’t see myself doing for much longer, but by putting it into the perspective of appreciating the experience and taking it one class at a time. I find that with teaching, there will always be hard/stressful/un-fun classes to teach, but there will also be ones that are enjoyable, fulfilling, and rewarding, so it’s important to stay mindful in this job.
In my Chinese studies I had found it hard to keep up the intensity and the rate of growth that I wanted to maintain, but by paying for two classes a week (one 1-on-1 session and 1 group session), I essentially forced myself to keep with it during a time I otherwise would’ve just wasted curled up in bed. My motivation is higher than ever since I have aspirations to get to business-level Chinese proficiency, and while I know I’m far off, I’m enjoying learning another language (especially since it’s part of my cultural identity).
With all three of these things, I suffered from a lack of motivation, but overcame it by establish good routines mentally and literally that helped me to continue progressing in each of these areas when facing a wall.
Throughout this winter, I’ve also stayed focused on continuing to practice mindfulness in my personal life, appreciating each moment of this journey as it comes, and not get bogged down by what might be on the horizon. Only this year in China is guaranteed, so it’s important to process my life here as it happens instead of waiting for the next good thing to come.
And now I find myself over The Wall and knowing the finish line is within reach.
How do I know I’m past The Wall?
I see where I need to go and the steps I need to take to get there clearly. I also know I can accomplish this not with motivation but with intention. Additionally, taking this journey, this race, one step at a time allows me to enjoy the path I’m on and not get overwhelmed by what I’ve left behind, or what awaits me at the end.
The next and final phase of a 3 mile race is the kick. For some it’s the last half mile, for others it’s the last 20 meters. You see the end line clearly in your head and use whatever’s left in the tank to get there sooner than the person that’s been nipping at your heels the last minute or 18.
I’m not quite at the kick yet, but I know I’ll finish strong.