Focusing on the “Need to’s” When the “Have to’s” are Dreadful

I started running in May this year.  A lot.  I began slowly, building up to longer and longer rurunningns until my longest–10.5 miles in one day, three weeks ago.  Though a year ago I couldn’t imagine myself wanting to walk even a mile, I have learned to love running.  There’s something therapeutic about being alone, away.  The world looks different when you’re not driving through it at 25, 45, 55 miles per hour; life is different when your existence divides itself into a battle between body and mind; time is different when you’re measuring it in distances, breaths, steps, heartbeats.  The elation and feeling of accomplishment at the end of a run, any run, any distance, is unmatched because it’s a battle you’ve won on your own out of sheer willpower to keep going.

Each run, though, begins the same way:  terribly.  I have to force myself into my running clothes, dreading every moment of what I’m about to make myself do.  I play mental games to get myself out the door:  “Just walk a few minutes….don’t commit yourself to anything long….don’t go left at that streetlight and you won’t have to make it up that huge hill…you can have chocolate milk later if you do this…”  I start with a warm-up walk, coaxing myself into picking up the pace: at the mailbox, you have to run.

And when I start….I always feel like I’m going to die.

I can’t catch my breath; my legs are burning; I don’t know why I make myself do this; this is never ending; I still can’t catch my breath; I’m going to trip and break an ankle, I can feel it; I wore too many little many little clothes; I can’t move my legs anymore; if I can just make it 10 more feet, I’m walking; can I walk yet?; I still can’t breathe; I can’t do this; I can’t do this; I can’t do this.

Brains give up before the body does.

A mile later, I still feel awful.  I debate the have to of running and think about why I choose to do it…Am I here because I have to be?  Because if I “have to be”, I don’t want it.  I don’t care enough to “have to” do anything.  “Have to” is someone else’s rule forcing.  “Have to” is in the world of power struggles.

No.  I’m here because I need to be–for myself, my sanity.  “Need to” is my rule.  It’s my need; it’s something inside myself that needs to run.

Another mile, and without consciously trying, my thoughts are changing:  that’s a nice house; when I get home, I need to _____; I wonder what happens if you _____; my nose is running; turn left? or turn right?; I hope that car can see me.

Then, before I know it, I’m done.  I’m home, and everything is ok–I’ve survived.  My breathing is normal, my body is normal, I’ve made it through.  It is only once I’ve completed the process that I feel strong and able again: like I can take on anything by becoming a stronger person inside myself first.

I’ve recently begun thinking about how often running sentiments and processes are apparent in my professional realm.  We all know there are so many things looming around us right now (tests, SLOs, SGMs, OTES, standards, standardization, mandates, influences, implications, changes, changes, changes), and I can feel that pre-run dread like a constant murmur coloring each conversation and meeting.  No one wants to lace up their shoes, and everyone struggles to see why we force ourselves through these things.  It’s a terrible, always-present feeling.  I do not feel good about the parts of my job that are dedicated to elements of education that change on whims.

Just like in running, there comes a moment when subconsciously, the mind switches from dread and misery to existing in the moment and getting through the tough stuff.  While our context in public education may be one of policy/mandates, standardization, things that don’t make us feel good about being educators…it is the eternal optimist in me looking for “wiggle room” among the “stuff” to exist beyond the “stuff” of the day.  I think we trudge through the movements in time that are difficult because we recognize how temporal they are: this is here today, but it will be gone tomorrow–replaced with a new politician/governor/governing body/cultural movement.  We push through because we have to, and I think we survive as a system by submitting to only what we have to while couching the “have to’s” in the true task of educators: need to’s.  We need to love and care about kids.  We need to find ways to reach them.  We need to help them learn to love learning.  And we need to show them how to always learn.

Are we here because of our “have to do” or because of our “need to do”?  Much like in running, a “have to” is external–it’s someone else’s rules.  While they exist in education, if we are here because of all the “have to’s”, we neglect to fulfill anything inside ourselves as an institution.  The “have to’s” absolutely exist–it’s the world in which we operate–but how can we lessen their impact (exist within and through them) while emphasizing the life-fulfilling “need to’s” of this incredible profession that give us the ability to impact the future of culture?

The run is so much more worth it in the end when it feeds a need.

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