I work with this tall, pretty and quiet mami called Sylvia. A true fitness freak. She recently introduced me to a group dubbed Run, Fun & Fitness with members drawn from various parts of Nairobi. Now, these fellas are mad about fitness. At 5 am, when other city dwellers are snuggling under the covers they are running through the streets of Nairobi in an effort to keep fit. Sylvia jogs at least 15 km every morning before coming to work. Suffice it to say she motivated me to join the club especially since having a potbelly without an equally inflated bank account is a crime in this city.
This morning I woke up with one clear objective, to beat my jogging record. I quickly donned a tracksuit, threw over a hood, laced up and dashed out of the house only to find out it is drizzling.
“Dude, why the hell would you subject yourself to such torture? …Are trying to get pneumonia? …The smartest choice would be to go back to bed!”
My head plays host to this internal debate. Every organ in my body screams that I abandon my lunatic endeavor and simply crawl back to bed, nonetheless, I start jogging.
The first kilometer is absolutely strenuous. My chest is on fire. The cold breeze blowing against my face and slippery tarmac don’t make it any easier. My vision gets blurry with each step. By the time I get to the three-kilometer mark I’m panting like an old bull. Both ankles feel like they are dipped in molten coal while side stitches plague my abdomen section.
In all my evening runs this is where I turn and head back home, however, I remember one of the fitness group members, Ms. Joyce Nduku, a 64-year-old Kenyan granny who completed the 2018 Comrades Marathon last month. She finished the 90km race in 10 freaking hours! That’s the same distance from Nairobi to Naivasha. Despite the creaking joints and sore quads, I push on, one step after the other with Post Malone’s hits blaring into my ears as I slice through the chilly morning.
Surprisingly, after five kilometers by breathing becomes regular whilst all the discomfort I felt vanished. I had broken my endurance barrier and that’s how I ran for 11km non-stop. I still had the energy to go further but I had to go back and prepare for a presentation slotted for 9 am.
I cannot help but marvel at how similar life is to my morning run. See, the first time you attempt at doing something is usually the toughest. Same way you were dragged to school on your first day crying and kicking. Confusion and anxiety you felt while starting out your career or when you move to a new city.
Most people look at how cold it is out there coupled with slippery tarmac and drizzle, ultimately give up even before they start pursuing their truest passions. Half of those who proceed, give up within the first mile when things get tough. Clients are not coming in as fast as you thought yet you quit a stable job to start a business. No matter how much you try to develop your talent nobody is appreciating your works. It feels like you are constantly fighting against the tide. It gets to a point you start questioning your sanity.
I was insane to think I of all people can do it when it is clear I am not good enough… There are millions who are way better than I am why the hell should even attempt to pursue this career path… Maybe I should crawl back to my toxic partner because things are tough out here.
The first mile is a boulevard of broken dreams. It is the stretch many of us write off our dreams & aspirations simply because it all seems impossible. We end up making seemingly sound excuses, rationalizing why we choose to give up instead of forging ahead.
The truth is that life will always test your resolve on how bad you want to achieve something. When making plans you probably imagine in a year or two you will have dominated an entire industry, however, life takes you through a series of hoops and hurdles, separating those who are genuine from jokers.
When you soldier through the failure and curveballs life throws your way until you break the endurance barrier things that felt like mountains turn into anthills. Getting through tough situations becomes less hectic thanks to the lessons and experience you have acquired.
While going up a steep slope during my morning run, a guy in a red jacket zoomed passed me. I tried to keep up with him but boy he was too fast leaving me exhausted to the point I almost collapsed. Which is precisely what we do. Constantly trying to compete with our neighbors, former classmates, colleagues and agemates instead of working on our life goals.
Any time we see someone in our circles doing better than we are in one sphere of life our first instinct is to outdo them often at a greater cost. The amount of pressure we Nairobians subject ourselves to maintain the illusion of success is unbelievable. Our apartments, cars, furniture, tech gadgets and even clothes are financed through loans that attract high-interest rates leaving us in a perpetual cycle of debt. If paychecks were to be delayed by two months more than half of Nairobi working class would be homeless.
We often forget that life isn’t a competition. We are all running different races. Striving to outdo everyone you know may give you temporary satisfaction, however, by the time you hit 60+ you will regret having spent all your life focusing on such trivialities instead of the things that are actually important to you.
Like a typical human, I was envious of the old woman who ran 90km without taking time to learn her story. How many years had she trained for this particular race? What life experiences pushed her into running in the first place? How early does she wake up every morning to prepare her body for such a grueling marathon?
I concentrated on the highlight of her achievement while conveniently ignoring the amount of sacrifice, years and hard work she subjected her body to make it happen. Same thing we do when we see people in our dream careers winning big and feel jealous of their success. We also try to achieve similar fetes by taking shortcuts only to get frustrated when it doesn’t work because laws of nature dictate otherwise.
We also get into the habit of setting a ceiling to how far we can go in personal development, relationships, careers & business. We can achieve way more than what we imagine but our minds are the greatest liars. For me, 3km was the limit I thought I couldn’t surpass. Same way you keep stopping yourself from improving in your craft and become the world’s greatest because you have already achieved more than your family members so why not enjoy what you already have, right?
The best way to deal with your ever lying brain is to set up a series of small goals that you achieve sequentially. Had I told myself that I would be running all the way to town most likely I wouldn’t have gotten out of my bed. But when I kept tricking my brain into thinking I’m only doing two more kilometers then I’m done I accomplished my target without feeling the weight of it all.
I am looking to improve my speed, double my running distance and in two months I should comfortably finish half-marathons.
I intend to apply the same lessons to my life. The truth is that I have been rationalizing why I no longer write, conjured juicy excuses on why I haven’t gone back to school or fully invested in a certain joint venture and so much more. Being a storyteller, my excuses are totally convincing. The harsh truth is that I have simply been feeding my self-installed limitations on how much I can do with my life.
I hope you too get to do an introspection of your life. Identify the limits you have erected in your life and smash them, ultimately becoming the best you can ever be. We have only one life, which means we cannot afford to limit how much we can achieve.
Written by Mark Maish