May 13, 2014

The edge of comfort

It is bike to work month, and if you can believe it, the weather is wonderful.

I am trying to bike in as much as I can over the next couple of months, both to give my aching truck a rest (back in the shop on Thursday), as well as to shake off that lingering freshman 15 I packed on in the last three weeks of tax season. Add in bonuses like fresh air and escaping traffic and it is hard to pass up.

Well, of course like every morning, I am much more lazy than when I was making plans the night before. Evening Sean is always more ambitious than morning Sean. Biking to work takes a bit of extra planning as well. I haven't mastered the art of getting a neatly pressed shirt to the office without stashing it there the night before, and I have to resort to a baby wipes shower to freshen up after the ride in. Still, once I get my foot out the door, there are rarely any regrets.

Today the weather was near perfect. There was not enough chill in the air to warrant taking an extra layer of clothing I would regret within a mile, and the forecast was for mid-70s by the afternoon. I am pretty blessed by the route I can take to the office. The Sammamish Trail winds along the Slew for a couple of miles before connecting with the 520 trail that parallels the freeway. At just over 7 miles each way, I spend less than a mile needing to share the road with any cars.

The route is a bit hilly, with a long climb out of the Redmond valley just two miles in. I should take it easy, both to savor the time, and to reduce the need for the pseudo-shower when I get to work. When I am riding with someone else, I can spin easier and chat, but on my own I seem to always push harder. I am certainly not going all out, but definitely pressing.

As I spun past the Scotch Broom blooming at the side of the road, the annual scent tickling my memory and allergies like nothing else can, a phrase I read somewhere recently popped into my head. It was discussing running specifically, but training in general. In order to improve, you have to push past what you could do before, and walk that line between strength and strain. The phrase they used was something like, "getting comfortable with being uncomfortable."

I am not particularly gifted athletically. While I train pretty regularly, a good percentage of folks I ride and run near work much harder at it. They probably eat a little (lot) better and don't choose brewing beer as a hobby. What lets me keep pace, and maybe even crest the hill just in front of them on occasion, is being willing to go into the red more often.

Now, I have definitely gone over the line a few times. After the stair climb in November, it felt like I was breathing glass and my stomach was flipping for a good hour. At the end of the hike back from Delta Lake, my body shook and brain swam as I held on to the truck bumper for stability. These are more the exceptions than the norm, though, and I can generally walk along that edge without falling off a cliff.

As I pedaled up the next hill, my legs continuing to burn, I wondered why I can't seem to do this in other areas of my life. I am not good at venturing outside my comfort zone very often. I do not engage strangers in meaningful conversation. I avoid situations where confrontation lurks. I am not good at selling myself or much of anything else, and you can forget me ever standing up in front of a crowd.

As I crested the last hill, having survived one more time, bending without breaking, I thought I needed to take this lesson to heart. My older brother, having not acted a day in his life, has been in two plays recently - and he's pretty good. My office mate, a confessed shy person, constantly impresses me with the way she can convince, lead and teach.

She sent me an article the other day about marketing strategies for introverts. There were several lessons, but the one that stuck in my mind is that you can see it as playing a part. Your role, should you chose to accept it, is to take on the persona of someone who is confident. Sort of a fake it until you make it, but eventually it becomes a skill and a strength. To get there, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, but eventually that hill in front of you seems like it might be fun to climb.

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