I had a roommate in college who used to say that guilt is an unproductive emotion. I disagree with that (maybe because of my Catholic upbringing). I think legitimate guilt over something done wrong can spur better behavior and purer motives in the future.
Jealousy, however, is another story.
Jealousy is a truly unproductive, crippling emotion. To use an unfashionable word, it's a sin. Yet it's a sin I commit and suffer from on a regular basis. I'm jealous of people who are better writers than I am, of people who are better looking, of people who are more carefree than I am, of people with fewer financial constraints than I have...and of people who don't suffer from jealousy and are always glad to revel without adulteration in the accomplishments and happiness of others.
Today, I'm jealous of everyone who is running Boston this year, who are running even in this moment as I type, jealous that they have done the hard work and are now living the dream. Whereas here I sit, the future uncertain, my recent race times too slow, the clock ticking toward 40, lots of work ahead that may never get me there.
It's ugly and adolescent, I know, but it's true. Reading the posts and the tweets and the news stories all weekend has sent the running part of me into a funk and stoked my jealousy into a noxious green flame. My quads--still sore from Saturday's run on the Mesa Trail--aren't helping my confidence.
All the old self-defeating questions are popping up: Why am I wasting my time? Only 10% of the running population can accomplish this. What, really, are the odds that I am in that group? Even if I work hard, hard work can only get you so far without talent...and if I had talent it would have come out a long time ago.....
Don't get me wrong. I'm hoping everyone I know who is running Boston has a great race, especially Jim of 50after40 (and from the way the pros did today, I bet they are all having a fantastic race!).
But it's hard to be the wallflower, watching the happy dancers.
At least at my advanced age I know enough to be ashamed of these feelings. So last night I decided to fight the jealousy with the only antidote to it that has ever worked for me: gratitude.
I'm not going to attempt to wax eloquent here about that. There's a lot of New Age talk about gratitude out there these days, most of it a lot of sound and fury. My approach to it was to write two thank-you notes: one to my spin teacher, Tammy, without whom I couldn't have run a half-marathon PR with a cold last month, and the other to Mei, a volunteer at the rec center who comes in to staff the childcare there a half-hour early because my bootcamp class starts before their regular hours.
There are plenty of other people I should write to as well: my husband, Dan, of course, for countless things, including putting up with me sneaking peeks at my blog or reading running books when I should be, oh, say, bathing our children; my friends Christine and Kathy; the eleven not-easily-bored souls who follow this blog regularly; and lots of others.
Thinking of these folks has definitely taken the edge off the jealousy, and the topic-du-jour will move on from Boston when the sun sets today. But I know jealousy and other forms of despair will be back.
The trick is to keep running through it, like I'll need to do with bad weather, sore legs and other obstacles. It might help me to write a thank-you note every day. After all, I'm lucky that I get to run, whether I ever make the Boston cut-off or not, that I have a family who loves me, that I am healthy and employed and live in a beautiful place.
The roads taken by others will not be my road. That's still unfolding at my feet. I need to trust that wherever and however it leads, I'll end up in the right place in the end.