Monday, January 11, 2010

Little steps = big accomplishments

I had planned on writing about food and nutrition today in light of some of the fabulous vegan meals I’ve prepared in the past week. This morning, however, I woke early with a stabbing feeling of guilt in my stomach that left me nauseous. It was a sensation I’ve gotten used to feeling. It creeps up on me everyday, many times a day, when I let my mind wander back to my obligations to realize that, while I’ve achieved many things (graduate degrees, PR race finishes) I have done so with an expense: a student loan.

I hadn’t planned on graduating this soon-- or into an economy not primed to support someone with my qualifications. A loan is small beans for someone with an actual salary, but with each rejected job application, the prospects of my actually paying this thing off have become, well, dismal.

That was partially why I was so happy to be hired at a locally-owned small clothing boutique. Though I swore to myself after graduate school that I’d rather be run down by a stinking bus than work retail again, this job as been a godsend. And, actually, it isn’t that bad. Located next door to the only gym in town, my job makes it “easy” to get my weekly mileage in, despite the icy and snowy roads. I wake early, drive to town, run on the treadmill and then wander over a quaint little wooden bridge to the Boatworks Mall and open shop, so to speak.

For the first time in eight months, I have a paycheck. It’s a wonderful feeling to have money moving in two directions, finally. Except for this: the knowledge that I am now obliged to begin paying back my loan. Hence, the sick-feeling. I put off calling the entity (the good ‘ol department of education) to find out exactly what I owed and when over Christmas because, well, I reasoned, it was the holiday season gosh darn it! But today, I sat down with my black tea with soy milk in it and did what I’d been dreading: I organized a payment schedule for myself; I set off on what might be the financial equivalent of training for a marathon.

And so that’s what I will write about today. There are many events and obligations and even desires in life that seem larger than life: losing weight, paying off a loan, obtaining a career, running the 26.2. All seem so impossible when you’re just starting out, or wanting to start but not knowing how. I know I was overwhelmed when I decided on a whim to run my first marathon. Twenty-six miles was (and is!) impossibly long for someone who’d only run 13 and felt like shit afterwards. Just as, this morning, I’m feeling a certain je ne sais quoi sickness when the four-figure dollar sign hovers over my head, even though I’ve never actually had that much money to my name. How do you accomplish something large?

I had only to look into the landscape of my distance running past to know the answer: little steps.

In training for a marathon, one doesn’t start by trying to run the entire distance. That would only leave (most) people crippled, sore, and let’s face it, unlikely to want to try again. Instead, one begins with manageable distance-- say five to six miles-- that one runs everyday. Or, to be more accurate, some days one might run five to six miles, and another day only four (but one would run them faster by doing an interval workout or a tempo run.) But the point is that each day builds upon the next so that one’s fitness accumulates, like lint in a dryer. Or, in other words, it’s not so much the race that counts, but the practice.

And so, perhaps other things in life are a practice, too. I know writing certainly is. Though there are some crazies who try to sit and write an entire novel during the month of November (the official “Write a Novel in a Month or Less Month”), most people take years to do so. The pursuit of health, too, is a practice. It is not eating perfect one day only to succumb to donuts wrapped in bacon the next. Instead, it is small steps toward a goal of a certain weight or pant size or whatever measure constitutes “good health” to you. And so, I have to tell myself, that paying back what I owe on this loan is another “practice” as well. Little steps (composed of little payments) will eventually lead me to a place where I won’t have a gigantic minus sign hovering over my head. Or at least, I hope so.

I have to admit, however, the scope here is a bit different than what I’m accustomed to. For example, one can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks and lose weight (healthfully) in six months while this loan (on the payment schedule I came up with) will take me a little over seven years to get rid of. Seven years (and I don’t recall breaking any mirrors. Sigh.)

And here, again, running counsels me: patience and discipline are the merits of a good distance runner. Stay the course; make monthly payments and I know, eventually (when I’m old and gray) all will be well.

Though if anyone offered to pay it off for me in one solid lump-sum, I wouldn’t dissuade them from doing so.

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