Creating Opportunity from Unsettled Times

Over the past few months, I’ve often thought about how nearly everyone is facing unforeseen challenges at the moment. Those challenges are incredibly varied in type and scope, but they’re real. While the phrase “uncertain times” has become ubiquitous in recent months, I don’t recall coming across “unsettled times,” although that’s very much the case. I posit that uncertainty and unsettled are two very different states, with uncertainty focusing on reduced predictability of future conditions and unsettled focusing on changing dynamics in a more current timeframe.

For many, unsettled times are inherently uncomfortable, as they are, indeed, for me. However, upon reflection, I’ve come to see the unsettledness as creating opportunity in a number of ways, including the opportunities to reassess, to experiment, and to reinvigorate my own running as well as my life more generally, and maybe it can do the same for you.

Reassess

Very early in the COVID-19 crisis I wrote to a friend that I suspected crisis would be a time of extreme personal changes. There will be more babies… and more divorces. Some folks previously in big corporate jobs will quit to pursue their own businesses and passions. On the other hand, plenty of people who were forging their own paths will abandon those paths for the hope of greater relative security in a corporate or government job. Overall, the stresses and unfamiliarity of these times will lead to personal changes. Some will be knee-jerk reactions in the moment. Others will be long forming contemplations finally coming to a head.

Personally, I’m trying to see these times as a chance for more intentional contemplation. I’ve already held two personal retreats–in late 2017 and late 2019–during which I did a lot of big-picture reflection, but I hope to reengage in purposeful introspection on multiple levels in the coming months. This is a good time to check in and see if my new circumstances change any beliefs I’d previous thought I’d sorted out as well as to take a close listen to see if there are new areas for reflection that I’d not previously considered.

On the running side, although I’d hoped to continue with strong training following the cancellation of the White Mountains 100 in March, life stresses and lack of motivation have meant that’s not happened. I’ve given up on long runs for the time being, but still get out there every day, whether it’s a good run or just a good excuse to get outside. It’s quite possible that I’ll explore this more fully in a future article, but I raise it now as in the past few days it’s come to mind that this is a great time for me to reflect on what I get out of various sorts of running. Where does the sport give me joy, satisfaction, motivation, and other rewards? Are there aspects of the sport that take more from me than they give? Once I’ve given these aspects more thought, I can think about and make changes to make the sport that’s already given me so much even more rewarding.

Experiment

When our lives are just chugging along, for better and worse, it’s easy to just keep chugging. Why try new things when we’re moving forward fine enough? Why rock the boat? However, if the boat’s already rocking, then why not rock it a bit more? Why not take the opportunity that being out of one’s routine presents?

Getting on any social media platform can show plenty of examples of folks doing such experimentation on small scales. From the looks of things, a significant number of folks have figured out that baking can be fun, economical, and relatively easy. The same can be said for cooking more generally, along with often being healthier than eating out or cooking prepackaged foods. If you try buying vegetable seeds online right now, you’ll quickly find out that home gardening is growing like weeds. Many a person who wouldn’t consider themselves handy in any sense are–by choice or by necessity–repairing things around the house. In all of this experimentation, people are building new skills and new confidence, maybe finding novel modes of enjoyment and satisfaction, and possibly finding money savings along the way. Of course, they might also cross off things that they’ve tried and don’t want to do in the future, but learning what one doesn’t like is still a gain in my book.

I’d guess that even those who’ve been running for decades have room to experiment in their running, as well. Indeed, a forced lack of training partners, running groups, and races are already requiring this kind of experimentation by many. But one can also use this time without those things to experiment with what time of day we run; how we vary the intensity, length, and frequency of our running; and how various aspects of our daily lives affect our runs. While I always have and still do greatly prefer running late in the day over mornings, I’ve personally experimented with purposefully adding in some morning runs to see if the change helps decrease my number of “deflated runs,” when the stress or pending busyness build up and leave me energyless for my runs. I’m also experimenting with ways to still get in a good workout when I do venture out on a deflated run, by, for example, quickly turning such outings into stout mountain hikes that leave me breathless.

Reinvigorate

While the two prior points require active work, I think that we’ll see a whole lot of reinvigoration come out of this time. We’ve all experienced loss as well as the risk of loss of crucial elements of our lives and identities. We might very well have greatly appreciated these aspects in the past or they might have only come to light in recent months. Either way, it’s my thought and hope that we’ll be reinvigorated to cultivate and cherish these aspects of our lives when we later emerge from this crisis. Those aspects could be anything from a hug from a neighbor in the street to providing in-person care to a loved one in need, from being able to run a race or meet up with a running group to engaging in our professions and businesses.

Keeping a gratitude journal over the past half year has helped me realize how much I enjoy many of the day-to-day personal interactions I experience and I’m keen on making more of these happen in the future. On a larger scale, the very real threat to iRunFar’s existence posed by the pandemic has reinvigorated my commitment to making it even stronger and more vibrant in the future. As for running, I trust that reduced work travel and the likely elimination of racing from my calendar will further reinvigorate my already strong love for my own adventurous runs, while rekindling a desire for racing of all sorts in the future.

Conclusion

Being unsettled often feels unpleasant, but it can also be an opportunity. If we’re able, it’s an opportunity to reassess, experiment, and reinvigorate. It can be the shake-up that we needed and an opportunity to grow, even if we wouldn’t have chosen to shake up our lives in the first place. I hope that you and I find… no, I hope we make positives in a time that might otherwise feel bleak. Be well. Be more.

Call for Comments

What positive personal aspects have you or do you see coming out of your experience during the pandemic?

How might you change your life now and, later, in a post-pandemic world?

Aspens - Growth

There are 5 comments

  1. Graham

    I’ve confirmed my bias towards morning running… this is from someone who for years was a confirmed evening runner. Evenings and late afternoons just doing agree with me and don’t have the magic of the early morning light. In fact early morning running means I’m less likely to be be reminded of lockdown as I rarely see anyone at 6am anyway, and it helps with the social distancing too.

    I’ve also done more cross training including cycling and kickbiking. It seems to be paying off too, I seem to be getting a bit faster again after a long fallow period.

  2. Jasmine

    I’m right there with ya! This is a time for opportunity and to take action, not the other way around. This time has allowed me to be more present and not feel the urge to always be on the go. Spending time with family, catching up with friends (via Zoom of course), running just to run and more has brought peace to my life. I’m definitely more appreciative of my normal day-to-day life now and am really excited for what is to come after this is all over.

  3. Andy M

    Great article and insights Bryon. Being settled sounds appealing, but “settling” for things as they are connotes complacency if not defeat. Being “unsettled” can, if channeled well, be very positive. On the running front, thanks to much more work flex, I’ve run more than ever (and that’s over 20+ years), including a solo 50k and then a 50-miler just for kicks. Great stuff! Oh, yeah, and I’ve been cutting my own hair! Indeed being unsettled can spur us to new heights and accomplishments, both large and small.

  4. Greg Loomis

    I have made a change in my life due to you inspiring me during our February meeting (where I learned about your impressive daily running streak) and the pandemic giving me increased time on my hands. I have now completed at least 2.5 miles of running everyday of our quarentine time here in Virginia. Today making 63 striaght. Certainly nothing spectacular but it is the most consecutive days run for me since 1997. Keep finding the good!

  5. Anthony Fleg

    During the pandemic, I am taking time to savor each run for the medicine it is. Not to rush through it, not to lose sight of the wind whipping against my face or a birdie trying to sing me a “hello” because I distracted by steps, calories, mileage, and devices.

    This is a wonderful moment to settle into being unsettled, knowing our entire planet is experiencing this with us!

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