My current mantra is “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam.”
For those of you who don’t speak Klingon, it means “today is a good day to die.” It’s a phrase Klingon warriors say before going into battle.
In high school, I ran cross country and track. Running was a huge part of my life and my identity. I worked harder than anyone else on the team, running all summer and all winter. I ran up to 50 miles a week and did 13-mile long runs. I lifted weights and ran on weekends. I gave it everything.
And I achieved one of the goals I had for myself. Just one. And I did so on the backs of others.
Although not particularly fast and never a college recruit, I was better than most runners, especially at a small high school in a small athletic division. My résumé had four appearances at the cross country high school state finals and two in track. I held the school record in the 1600m and as a part of two relays. We had team regional championships to our name, and I was even on a 1600m relay team that took fourth in the state.
But I achieved most of that success as part of a team, not on my own. Without a good team, I never would have qualified for the cross country state finals my junior and senior year. I never broke 21 minutes for the 5K (just got agonizingly close at 21:06). My 1600m PR was 21 seconds slower than my goal. I didn’t meet my goal of making it to the track state finals as an individual. And that record-setting, medal-winning 4x400m relay team? I was the slowest member by 3 or 4 seconds. During those four years, I watched my teammates rise and surpass me as I plateaued and didn’t improve much.
When I finished running in high school, I was hurting. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough because I was looking into the face of my own shortcomings. I had given it everything and I was not good enough.
I’ve never again given anything my everything.
Not my writing, not myself and certainly not my running. Sure, I worked hard. I ran marathons and set some PRs. But quietly, my fear of not being good enough to achieve my goals grew into a raging monster.
The creative writing I once did dried up until my writing mostly became me vomiting fear all over the pages of my journals. Once, I ended up in the emergency room shocked to learn my inability to breathe wasn’t actually a physical inability to breathe–it was panic. Anxiety dragged me down; it circled me like vultures circle rotting flesh and squeezed me like a python constricts its prey.
I gave myself outs constantly, especially with running. It was so easy to come home from work and nap until it was too late to run as far as I had planned, or eat too much after work before my workouts or wait to run until it was so hot I felt apart in the heat. I was too fatigued. I didn’t feel right. I’d get it next time. There was more time until there wasn’t, and then, oh well, what do I do now? There was almost always something. At least I never again had to deal with my own lack of talent.
What’s worse, I didn’t consciously realize this for nine years and have been a mess of shame and anxiety for the better part of 11 years.
Once I realized the depths of this shame, I worked hard to dig myself out of the hole I had dug so neatly and so well. Brené Brown taught me about shame and vulnerability. Tara Stiles taught me about trying easy. Kara Goucher taught me about doing the work and letting things come to me. Elizabeth Gilbert taught me what it looks like to be a woman with a free soul. But the anxiety wasn’t going away. I tried all the things, and still it haunted me.
Then last summer I was heartbroken for the first time in my life at age 28. It was the kind of heartbreak that leaves you crying on the floor, you know? The good kind.
Rayya Elias once said in an interview she loved a good heartbreak. Leonard Cohen said there is a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. They are right, obviously.
After all these years of fear and scarcity, my heart couldn’t take it anymore. It broke open. I stopped trying to bully myself into being a person I wasn’t and surrendered to the person I was. The light slowly cleared out the anxiety. I stopped living from my ego that broke at age 18 and started living from my soul again, childlike.
I’ve been running for 18 years, and I’ve failed at running more than I’ve failed at anything else. Failing at running is better than not running. That’s the definition of soulwork.
Today is a good day to die.
That doesn’t mean actual death in my life (I DO NOT WANT TO DIE). To me, it means giving it everything and risking failure. I mean really risking failure, like finding out I’m just not good enough to achieve my lofty goals.
Life is too short to shortchange and sabotage yourself. Fear is boring. It’s the same bullshit again and again. “You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. Don’t try. Don’t even try.”
Maybe I’m not good enough. I survived the shame 11 years ago to fight again and I can survive it now. Maybe I’m not good enough to run a 3:30 marathon. I think I am, but maybe not.
If that’s the case, so what? I’d rather give it hell and find out than continue to cower on my couch and make myself anxious and miserable.
The thing I love about Klingon warriors is they are so alive. They are vibrant and bold. The are loud and aggressive. They laugh and drink and fight with gusto. They walk into a room and everyone knows it. They would rather die in glorious battle than not fight because the outcome matters less than the fight itself.
After cowering in increasing fear these past 11 years, I’m pulling this Klingon mindset into my life. I’m walking through life with a hearty, joyful laugh so that I know I’m alive and kicking. Marathon training is my battle. Writing is my battle. Life itself is my battle. The outcome is not what matters. The process is what matters.
Next time I’m on the starting line, I’ll say to myself in a guttural voice “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam” and give it hell.