Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Named and noticed

Tuesdays at Two Writing Teachers!
Head up. Shoulders back. I check my reflection in the tinted windows. Do I look like a runner? Come on, legs! Don't slow down.... Oh gosh. This is hard. Just keep going. Ok.... 1 lap. Focus on this 1 lap. Then another. 1 at a time... Head up. Breathe. Don't let form break down. Another window-reflection-check. Go, legs!... Oh gosh, look at that guy. He's like, a real runner. How many laps is he doing? I wish I could run like that... Last year, I was running a mile in under 9 minutes. When can I run a mile again? People must think I'm so out of shape, running these little bursts of laps with breaks, and my dumb fat belly... Nope. Stop. Look how strong I'm getting! I'm getting so much stronger!... Here we go. Eyes ahead. Head up. Come on.

Then, the sweet-settling cooldown walk: That was hard. Good-hard. Look at me. Sweat-pouring stretches and cool-gulping mouthfuls of water: Yep, just the right kind of good-hard for now. Bounding down the stairs: Way better than sitting at home. Adjusting the seat and pinning the right weight into place: I'm going to get there. Just keep pushing. Furrowed brows, steady weights swinging: Just keep going. Just a little more. Better every day.

"Are you a trained runner?" This gray-haired man's admiring tone jerks my brain out of its workout-sharp, so-clear-it's-almost-empty focus-void.

"Umm?" My eyes briefly dart around to see if he's talking to someone else. "No? Not really?" I ran middle-school track for two years, very slowly, awkwardly, and poorly? I have never excelled at anything athletic in my life, except marching band? I'm just a band girl?  

Clearly, my stammering, startled confusion takes him aback. "I'm not trying to be smart or anything, really! I was just watching how smooth you were running, and I thought, 'Wow, she has to be a trained runner!' You're one of the smoothest runners I've seen around here!"

"Oh! Wow! Um, thanks! I mean, my dad was a runner, and I kind of learned from him. I've been trying really hard! Thank you!"

And just like that, the remaining tendrils of doubt and discouragement release their hold on me. He noticed me, and thought I was doing a good job? He noticed so much that he had to come up and say something, when he doesn't even know me at all? He thinks I'm a real runner?! I feel like I just found out that I'm actually a superhero! 

I guess I could have told him that I was in the OSU Marching Band for 5 years, and that helped me develop an acute awareness of my posture and movements, coupled with the determination to relentlessly analyze my performance and find ways to improve. I could have told him that the R-Factor conversations my favorite new colleague has brought to our school have reinforced that old drive and analysis while also challenging me to examine my focus and self-talk to develop a more positive growth mindset.

Trained runner? No. Trained marcher and thinker? Definitely.

I could have also told him that I only started running seriously a year and a half ago, and that since then I've had to stop completely and start over, twice, due to the hardest personal tragedies I have ever gone through, within less than a year. I could have told him that the past three years have been the most challenging of my life, for way too many different reasons, and that even though the simple difficulty of running gives me power and clarity, I'm also tempted to quit almost every week.

"Runner?" Not if you mean a competitive athlete who's been running for years, which is what I'm tempted to think it means. Runner, as in a person who runs, just like a writer is a person who writes? Yeah, but it takes some work to make myself believe it.

But I didn't tell him any of that. I just smiled and savored his words all evening. And three days later, when I ran again. And every time I've run, over the past three weeks, ever since. I run, and now my brain says: Smooth! I look like a trained runner! Eyes ahead. Head up. Strong legs. Keep it up, Smooth Runner. 

Identity is powerful. Feedback is powerful. Specific, timely feedback that builds an identity is life-changing. And when it's a surprise, it goes straight to your heart with even more force.

How much better would our classrooms, our schools, our world be if we all acted a little more like random rec center guy? If we slowed down enough to notice each other? To figure out what's special and point it out? To honor what someone else is striving for by naming it? Let's search for opportunities to say, "Hey, I noticed your hard work. It was awesome because (specific observation). It made you look like a real (identity construct)."

This is what we all need to RISE.

Head up. Keep going. Better every day. 

My Brooks make me feel like a real runner, too! <3


  1. Yea, you! Running. Even when it's hard and you want to quit. And isn't wonderful how the power of a few little words can encourage us...

  2. I love your writing you are a good storyteller who leads your readers through sequences to insightful conclusions and motivators for action. Yes, you are a runner. And I am a weightlifter— and yes, I want to quit every week too. But you and I are also Smith girls and we definitely do not quit.

  3. A few words make such a difference! Good for you, out there running and working to be in shape. You always do such a good job of telling the inside story alongside the outside story. Way to go!


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