2012 has drawn to a close, and as I reflect on this past year, I look back on the two things that have most changed my life.
I’ve had the great fortune of being born with genes that are relatively impervious to weight gain, though I’m sure that will change in another decade or two, so regular exercise has never been that high on my priority list. I have done various forms of exercise semi-regularly, but long hours at a sedentary desk job coupled with my lack of hand-eye (or rather any body part with any other body part) coordination and general lackadaisical demeanour, have wrought what can hardly be described as an active lifestyle.
After too many aborted attempts at attending a yoga class, I decided that running might be more suitable for me. No rigid schedule to adhere to, nor costly gym membership or gear to acquire, and I get to take advantage of a willing running buddy in the form of a future husband, and my newly adopted city of San Francisco, where one can run year-round.
I started running in fits and starts, as is my general strategy for these things, and could not even run a mile without taking a break, or make it up one of San Francisco’s famous hills without swearing profusely and slowing to a walk, suffering the penalties of years without any real cardio.
After two months of infrequent and lackluster outings, I decided to fully commit myself by signing up for a half-marathon… in mid-November. It was May and I, being a total noob, started training in earnest that early. 2-mile mid-week runs gave way to 3, then 4 within a month. Longer runs on the weekend went from 5 miles to 9 in as many weeks.
It hasn’t been without setbacks. I got painful runner’s knee after following a crack running plan where I ran 13 miles and 14 miles in consecutive weeks on Vibram soles (no kidding! you say). After taking three weeks off and switching to good ol’ grandma-style running shoes with giant marshmallows for soles, I was back at it. I never did run more than 10 miles in training again, with the fastest barely at 9:30min/mi pace, but I somehow miraculously achieved my pie-in-the-sky goal of a sub-2 hour half marathon at Big Sur, clocking in at 1:59:07.
The impact running has had on my life and general well-being is numerous. I have more energy throughout the day, I get stressed less easily, and my sleep has not been this good since I was little. I just all-around feel much better, which I’m sure has all kinds of other good side-effects that I’m not even consciously aware of.
Despite amassing 500 miles this past year - far beyond my wildest reckoning, I still don’t find it easy to go for a run. It’s hard to get out of a warm bed when it’s still dark out, or up from a comfy couch on a sunny afternoon. Harder still not turn back at the 3 mile mark when I had set out for 6. I’ve had plenty of cheat days. But maybe that runner’s high has got me hooked just a little. I sure do hope so, because I plan to keep running for a long time.
I think the very act of starting a company makes one philosophical. Every day you’re faced with the same questions: What are we doing here? What should we be doing? What does it all mean and to what end?
Maybe one only becomes philosophical when the whole enterprise is failing - or treading water, which in start-up terms equals failing, which is where I found myself this past year. In my newly acquired free time, I rediscovered my love for reading, a habit that has been woefully neglected in the pursuit of industrious work for far too many years. It was in this period of indiscriminate reading that I fortuitously discovered Stoicism, a philosophy that has been given short shrift due to the appropriation of the word ‘stoic’ to mean unfeeling and devoid of emotions.
Though I’ve ventured down the philosophy aisle in the past, I can’t say that any amount of reading Camus, watching Waiting for Godot, visiting Tibetan holy sites, practicing yoga, or trying to wrap my head around the jargon that is metaphysics, has caused me to ever seriously re-evaluate how I think or change my thinking in any significant way. Maybe I just haven’t been receptive.
Contrary, I’ve found the ideas of eminent Stoic philosophers, such as Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca, to be surprisingly and immediately applicable. Not only applicable, but effective in its aims of becoming more tranquil and happy. Perhaps my engineer mind is naturally drawn to stoic appeals to reason. Stoic teachings have given me new ways of thinking and of dealing with problems, both small and large. And upon further reflection, I really have no large problems to speak of. The effect its influence has had on my personal happiness has been substantial, even in such a short amount of time as a few months.
It’s easy to forget that despite two thousand years of human development, human nature has remained remarkably resilient. Video games may have replaced blood sports at the coliseum, but still we grapple with essentially the same problems and we strive for the same things as people have for thousands of years. People much wiser have been thinking about these problems for as long. It’s comforting to know that I won’t experience something that someone hasn’t already experienced many times worse and has graciously shared with everyone ways to deal with it.
Fittingly, the two things that have changed me the most have to do with the body and mind. External circumstances are subject to constant flux, but your body and mind will stay with you. And things that stay with you should not go neglected.
Have a happy 2013.