(In keeping with my goal to focus on issues of wellbeing in higher education, please read this guest blog post by first time blogger and marathon runner, Rachel Aho. In her post, she shares about how her strengths have guided her professional and wellness journey.)
The past thirty weeks have encompassed many things for me: the end of my first professional year as a Residence Director, the transition in my daily coffee order from iced coffee to pumpkin spice lattes, and most consistently, the continual climb, decline, and physical struggle that is marathon training. A year ago today, I would never have predicted to embark upon such an adventure, however, come this Sunday, I will find myself facing the biggest physical challenge of my life. The thought of running mile after mile through twenty-nine of Chicago’s neighborhoods alongside 45,000 others is both equally terrifying and exhilarating. While I find myself ready for the completion of training and eager to experience sleeping-in on Saturdays once again, I am also entering into the race knowing that only three weeks ago, I could barely walk three blocks without pain due to a foot injury.
A Mantra On Ice
My running mantra, something I repeat to myself during long, painful runs, “grace and strength” seemed to slip away from me after my injury. Sitting on the couch, icing, and Googling home remedies didn’t satisfy my desire to stick to my training schedule no matter what. I found myself angry, sad, and disheartened at the thought of not accomplishing my goal. Prior to this point, I had only missed two runs during training, something I was proud of, however, I now found myself skipping runs, sitting on the sidelines, and entering into recovery.
It was during this down time, however, that I realized my mantra still applied to my life. How I approached this injury could either make or break my chance of finishing the race. I could either sit back, resigned to giving-up, or I could face this injury with grace and strength. I chose the latter, not because it was easy, but because it was how I trained. And I was not done training.
As many of you who know me will attest, my top five strengths likely informed how I responded to this new challenge much as they do within my work as a Residence Director. As an “achiever,” I initially found myself resistant toward the reality of what was happening—convinced that I would wake up one day, 100% better and able to get back to work. As each day passed, however, I found this not to be true and decided I needed to find a new goal, re-examine my expectations, and focus on the small wins each day. I knew that putting a time limit on my race was no longer a reality, however, focusing on the finish was.
My “input” and “learner” strengths led me seek out professional consultation, read blogs, and gain perspective about my situation. I soaked up all the knowledge I could from fellow runners, colleagues and friends. I tried out anything that could help—drinking more milk, wearing tennis shoes to work, and even contemplating wrapping my foot with cabbage.
My “relator” strength allowed me to lean on others, express frustration and find reassurance from those who have had similar struggles. And lastly, and most importantly, having “belief” as a strength led me to hang on without wavering to my mantra…“grace and strength.”
Beyond the Race
As a runner, I find this mantra not only beneficial to me while out on the trails, but also as a student affairs professional and someone who enters each day not knowing what will come, who will enter my office, and what “injuries” will arise. I rely on the assurance that by entering the day with “grace and strength” I will be able to serve the students who come to me whether they be angry, sad or disheartened. Unsure of their outcomes, their potential and their ability to bounce back, I work hard to offer some perspective, reassurance and help them maximize their own strengths.
By celebrating the small wins, re-examining expectations, and helping students to find that one thing they can hold onto with unwavering strength, I hope to help them embark upon adventures they never thought possible. While running this Sunday, I will think of them, those who have helped me find my mantra, and those who are still searching for their own. No matter what happens, I know that at the conclusion of this adventure, I will continue to repeat my mantra each and every day… “grace and strength” not because it is easy, but because it is how I train. And I am not done training.
What is it that keeps you going each day? What is your mantra and how does it help you maximize your strengths?