It seems like every time I lace up my sneakers and hit the sidewalk or the treadmill for a run, I’m struck by how well running serves as a metaphor for my work as a graduate student. Most days, the metaphor is about discipline. It’s about doing something daily so that it becomes habit. It’s about how running that extra half mile teaches me I can push through another thirty pages of reading or another ten exams at the end of the night.
But yesterday was different. Full disclosure: I haven’t run in at least a month, in large part because this semester has been the busiest yet and I’m not always great at structuring my time well. So when I stepped out the door into a cold, windy, March day in Jersey, I knew it would have to be a short run. There was no way I could go the three to four miles I was running a month ago. I don’t have the strength and endurance for that now. Two miles, I knew, would be enough to get me back in the habit and still leave me strength to get out the door again today. Yesterday’s run was about knowing my limits and learning how to say, “This is enough.”
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend for two miles to continue to be my limit. Today I’ll go a little farther and start working back up to three, four, or five miles. I’ll start setting goals to move faster; I’ll run with people who push me. But yesterday I had to face what I was capable of – and what I was not capable of.
And this is especially important for me as a grad student this week. I have a to-do list a mile long and I haven’t yet accomplished the goals I set out for myself on any given day. Matter of fact, I’m three days behind the schedule I typed out on Monday. But not because I haven’t been focused or productive. It’s because I haven’t been setting reasonable limits for myself. As a person who does not function well on too-little sleep, I cannot expect to grade all of the midterms for my class, write an internship application, read three hundred pages, attend a two-hour choir rehearsal, and have a run all in one day. (I’m not exaggerating – this was supposed to be yesterday’s schedule.) It’s like trying to run a marathon. I can, however, grade the midterms, read an article, return books to the library, catch up on emails, run, and attend choir practice. That schedule, on the other hand, is a two-miler.
Maybe I’m underestimating my abilities – I’m the first to admit I have some time-wasting habits that need to go. But at the end of the day, I need these more confined task lists and shorter runs to escape the my own nagging voice that says, “Not enough. Never enough.” At the end of the day, I need to be able to recognize that what I have accomplished is enough, even if I acknowledge there are ways to be a better student tomorrow. I need to learn to say to myself, “Two miles is enough today.” Even if I’ll run farther and faster tomorrow.