Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shifting Gears

Someday, I expect, I will get over the fact that I actually completed a triathlon--but not yet.  After all, it's only been ten days.  And you know the saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail?  Well, all I have is this recent experience, and some residual soreness and fatigue, and all of life seems to be just begging for a triathlon-inspired metaphor or two.  So indulge me, please, as I milk this achievement for its applications to other endeavors.

The lesson I've been contemplating the last few days is one I learned on the bike.  Though I have been biking since I was six, it was only in this season that I really came to understand the practice of "gearing," and managed to appropriately use all fifteen of the gears on my current bike.  I now know to "make hay while the sun shines," the phrase that pops into my head as I maximize speed in a higher gear before hitting a hill.  And to gear down as needed on an incline, attempting to maintain a steady "cadence"--cycling-speak for pedaling rhythm.      And I recognize the value of familiarizing oneself with a course in advance, which helps in managing energy, saving something for the rough parts.

It is probably not optimal to think of my life as a race, but that's where my head is at for the present.  And from inside this admittedly limited paradigm, I am struck by the importance of being responsive to terrain.  And I see that I have been operating as though my life were all hills.  Although, as I think about it, that is clearly impossible.  I guess it's more like I've been experiencing my days and my efforts as one long uphill climb.  I've been neglecting my higher gears on the levels, and totally ignoring opportunities to coast.  

Of course, another fresh tri insight is the importance of equipment.  This was brought home to me most painfully on the back end of the race's bike course, when those with pricier wheels coasted past me as I continued to pedal downhill.  But I have to admit that, unlike the amazingly decent bike I purchased for $39 at Goodwill, which I had tuned up and upgraded with a seat more friendly to a woman's anatomy, my "life equipment" is better than average.  My health is reasonable, my intelligence a strong point, my level of education excessive, my people skills good, my financial resources more than adequate.  I have a spacious, if messy, home in a safe neighborhood; a loving, albeit contentious family; a wonderful, pillow-snatching dog; and more friends than I have time to keep up with.  My nervous system has a few glitches, but nothing I can't work around.

So if I'm blessed with a pretty nice "ride," it remains for me to get better at using what I've got.  And that will mean adjusting my effort to the course.  

Unlike a triathlon, my life course is not set, with mile markers, painted arrows, and encouraging staff along the way.  I can't do a practice run, and gauge my exertion with foreknowledge of upcoming challenges and easy spots.  There's a bit of necromancy involved in divining where I'm going.  But some of what's ahead can be predicted with a degree of certainty.  And if I pay attention, I can at least sense the contours of my present location.  

At this moment, my course is relatively level.  Time to pay some attention to the scenery.  And to stop attacking the hill that isn't there.

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