Lessons in Pacing

Updated: Sep 5

Zero or a hundred, with very little in between. Has anyone experienced this? You’re either going along, living your life at 100 miles per hour or you halt to a dead stop.

My whole life has been a lesson in pacing. When I was a child my family nickname was the “wild child”. If I wasn’t running around the house, getting into things, or asking a thousand questions, I was curled up sleeping on the floor somewhere. It was continuous games of chase and hide and seek in our house.

I’ll be 40 years old soon and it’s like I forget how to do slow and steady. When I find an invigorating hobby, activity, or relationship, I want to do that and only that – yes, my inner child still runs the show sometimes. Too, when I find meaning or purpose in something, mainly my career, I’ll work tirelessly until I burn myself out. I’ve experienced burnout a couple times in my career. As a mental health professional, it’s not uncommon to go through compassion fatigue or burnout at some point in your career. The full impact of burnout in a future blog coming soon.

When you try to find articles on pacing, you’ll find two popular possibilities: 1) chronic illness—thankfully, I’ve not had to personally experience— and 2) long distance running — something I am familiar with and relate to quite well. The third type of article you’ll find is in business and entrepreneurship, which I can very much relate to right now. In each one of these categories the theme is about mastering the balance of energy reserve and energy expenditure.

Energy expenditure is an easy one for me to understand. I used to run long distances. It was my “thing” for about a decade. I found out early on that pacing was important if my goal was to “go the distance” and run 13 miles I had to figure out how. When I first started running, my pace was fast, which didn’t last. I learned quickly that I had to go at a pace where I was pushing myself, but not to the point where I could hardly breathe, or my legs were giving out. I learned to adjust my stride, use my arms, and focus on things ahead of me like the next light pole, or block, or curve in the road.

Most days, I’d set the number of miles I wanted to run. I was running an 8-minute mile, so I’d set a rough time goal. I’d almost always achieve the goal. Sure, there were days I didn’t. For me, it was about accomplishing the miles and not so much the time – though, if I’m being honest, if I ever didn’t meet the time goal, I was disappointed. Running was liberating. It was about moving my body, increasing my heart rate, calming my mind, and releasing my spirit. Most of the time it was about the process of running and not so much the about the destination.

You’d think running would be a great lesson and metaphor for me to return to in other life situations, specifically work. I teach this concept all the time, generalizing – using an idea, experience, or event and applying it to a similar situation or context. Do I remember my running pacing lesson when I’m in the thick of it, stressed, trying to figure out how to do everything at once? Nope. Sure don’t. I get so “in it” that I forget to adjust my stride, use my resources, and focus on the few things ahead of me. I forget to take it one task at a time.

Here’s the thing. This may very well be a lifelong lesson for me. And, if you’re anything like me, you have to learn pacing the hard way, over and over again.

Energy reserve is something I, personally, work hard to practice. Full disclosure, I had to look up several definitions for “energy reserve” so I could even write a few sentences about it. I’ve only had access to a semblance of energy reserve in the last few years. In my 20s and early 30s, I’d go until I couldn’t anymore; collapse into exhaustion and then go again. It was not a good look on me. Luckily, I have amazing, supportive, and gently assertive humans in my life that tapped me on the shoulder when they saw the reserves getting low and expenditures getting higher. At first, you can imagine my reaction: ‘how dare they tell me to slow down and take care of myself.’

I mentioned burnout earlier. Well, energy reserve showed up, stared me straight in the face, and held its gaze. It showed up not because I chose it, but because it was being required, demanded!

My pacing lesson is still in process and here’s what I’ve learned: it’s about push-pull, it’s about output vs input, it’s about letting go of the scarcity mindset. If you are learning a pacing lesson or this was helpful for you, reach out. I’d love to hear from you!

For more on taking care of your wellbeing, find me @wearelightingthepath.

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