Crisis is absolutely an overstatement here but it got your attention didn’t it? While it may not be a true crisis, I can safely say that I am in the midst of an identity quandary.
This weekend I was slogging up a relentlessly steep section of trail, all the while berating myself for how much harder the hike felt this year versus last, about how sore my legs were, about how I needed to go more slowly and take breaks here and there. The old me, I kept telling myself, thought this trail was a cake walk. Then I started to berate myself for how self critical I’ve been about my lack of fitness progress lately. It was a spiral of self-criticism. As I plodded along and thought more and more about my headspace lately, it dawned on me that my recent negativity and frustration with my relative lack of fitness is just a symptom of a bigger issue.
The real culprit, the root cause if you will, is something far bigger. It turns out my sense of identity had been in question and I hadn’t even noticed.
For years now, I have been the obsessive hiker/runner. I have been the person who would wake up at 6 am, drive for three hours, hike 30 kilometers, and then drive another three hours to get home. I would do this for day’s on end. If you asked me what I did on the weekend or on vacation, I would tell you I hiked. Every day. In fact, you wouldn’t even have to ask me because you would just know. I didn’t make plans with my friends on weekend days because I would be hiking. Evenings were fair game for plans, but only when meeting late enough to accommodate my hiking schedule.
I was also the obsessive lunch break runner. My team knew that I would be out of commission for fun lunch events. I would be running or at the gym. I wouldn’t sacrifice these workouts for anything. I planned my work schedule around my workouts. They came first. This was how I made sense of myself. It’s how others made sense of me. It was my identity and my way of prioritizing my life.
All of this came to a grinding halt mid-April. Suddenly I was a person who had time to meet friends for breakfast on the weekend, or enjoy a lazy morning at home instead of rushing off to a hike. I had time to go the putting green and practice my mad putting skills (okay, okay, below average putting skills). I was the co-worker who’d suddenly join in for farewell lunches or birthday cake celebrations. Suddenly, all of this stuff seemed pretty great.
As I’ve been struggling through runs and hikes lately, it occurs to me that part of the struggle is that I don’t actually miss that “obsessive-hiker-runner” identity, but it’s what I know best so I unconsciously keep trying to get back to it. For so long it’s what has given me my sense of self, it was easy and comfortable, and it’s how I assumed others understood me. What I also realized is that inner drive to hike longer and steeper trails, and to run farther faster, were more than just my identity–they were my badges of honour. They set me apart. They made me proud.
Now I find myself in this new landscape of shorter hikes and decreased fixation on running pace and distance. I like it, but I’m not sure what it means for my identity. How will I define myself? What will be my new badge of honour? Do I even need a badge of honour? I guess this is my long-winded way of saying I’m in the market for a new identity. If only I knew where to pick one of those up…