My race began...
when I arrived, several weeks early, eager to make my way into the world—even though my parents weren’t quite ready.
My race began when I was eight and I entered a summer reading contest at the local library. Determined to win, I stayed up all night long to meet my self-imposed page quota, wanting only to be the girl who read the most.
My race began in college when I dropped any class that pushed me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me to think in a new way. I was too scared to take some of the courses that actually interested me—subjects like economics and biology—because I worried that getting a bad grade on a tough exam would compromise my otherwise perfect GPA.
My race began when I moved to New York and got my first job. I wasn’t even sure it was the right job for me, but I clung to the bottom rung of that career ladder, desperate to scramble up as quickly as possible.
My race began when I went on a blind date with a great guy and sensed right away that we would get married—before I knew it, we were planning our wedding, and then, in the blink of an eye, we welcomed one baby and soon another.
My race began yesterday at work when I scrambled to return edits to an author, thinking only about how quickly I could finish this project and turn my attention to the next. In my rush, I let myself forget how much I had originally loved the writer’s voice on the page, how smart and interesting I found her argument; her life’s work became just another box to check on my long to do list.
We race because it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to get done what needs to get done and there will be more to do tomorrow. We race because the world moves so fast and keeping won’t cut it, we have to get there first. We race because it can feel like there isn’t enough to go around, so we have to best our competition. We run and we run and we run. And it’s so easy to get caught up in the pace. The sweat and the speed, the aches and pains begin to feel important; we think they’re getting us somewhere. We think we are getting closer to the finish line.
But what if there is not just one finish line? What if we will all cross many different finish lines in our lives, each one put there just for us? What if my finish lines are wholly different from yours? What if we can each experience victory in a million different tiny moments, each one our own?
When I reject the idea of a single finish line, when I refuse to believe in the myth of one final victory, I stop racing and start living.
I can stop racing toward adulthood and begin living as an adult when I slow down enough to relish the crossing of each tiny finish line. Like the time I successfully negotiated with a difficult landlord, or when I picked myself up after making a mistake and didn’t call my parents to beg them to rescue me. Adulthood isn’t achieved in a single burst through plastic tape, but in the small, seemingly insignificant moments that go mostly unobserved, but which build on one another to help us realize we are becoming more of ourselves.
In my work, when I can stop racing up the career ladder, I realize that I love what I do. The small finish lines that I cross to grow in my profession don’t always look like winning a big book at auction, getting a promotion, or publishing a New York Times bestseller. They are more like the time I stayed up late into the night talking with an author, together plotting and planning her next book. Or when I found myself part of a team that worked tirelessly to launch a huge project, making the success of that book’s release a thousand times sweeter because we all got to share the joy.
In my marriage, when I can stop racing toward whatever we think is supposed to be next, I realize that my partnership wasn’t made when a man bent on one knee to slip a ring on my finger, or even in the vows we exchanged in front of 200 friends. Our marriage is built on a thousand tiny snapshots—like last Friday, when I looked across the room at a party and saw my husband talking to a stranger and I felt my heart flip in my chest with the realization that I’d get to call him mine for the rest of my life. Or when my husband patiently coached my mom through the process of updating the operating system on her iPhone.
And in parenthood, when I can stop racing through the gazillion tasks involved in caring for small kids (the diapers to change, the bottles to wash, the snacks to pack, the shoes to tie, the backpack to retrieve from under the couch), I realize that I am a mother not because I saw a plus sign on a pregnancy test or because I’ve endured the searing pain of labor, but because every day is packed with small moments of tenderness, pride, and awe. I felt most like a mom when my daughter vomited all over me on an airplane and I sat caked in her grossness for hours, but all I wanted to do was bury my nose in her hair and sing quiet songs to her until her stomach felt better. When I can slow down enough to live in a moment like that—when I don’t let myself race right through it—then I am reminded how precious and amazing these little people I’ve been given really are.
It can all be a race. We can push ourselves to run faster and faster toward whatever we imagine the finish line might be. Or, we can slow our pace. We can choose to relish the path we’ve traveled and eagerly anticipate what lies ahead. We can turn our attention to the people running beside us. I think that when we do that, we will find the prize in each footstep. When we stop rushing to get there and focus instead on being here, our hearts beat wild and strong in our chests. That is the race of our lives.