What am I? It's a question that sits in my mind, like a a ghost in the shadows, teasing me to look straight at it and acknowledge that it's there.
I'm a woman, though I still think of myself as a girl. I'm a daughter and a sister, though I often wish I were better at those roles. I'm an employee, though I don't define myself by what I do. I'm a friend, and I hope I'm a good one, but you'd have to ask my friends about that.
There are so many ways we can choose to define ourselves in our lives. Who we were born to, what we do, how we spend our free time. I like to backpack, though I wouldn't call myself a backpacker. I don't go on backpacking trips nearly as much as I'd like to, and every time I do I worry - am I packing the right gear? Do I have enough food? Why is my pack always so heavy?? A "real" backpacker has all that worked out to a fine science, carries a 25lb pack and hikes 20 miles a day. Or so I think. I don't think of myself as a climber. I like going to the climbing gym and I've really enjoyed the few outdoor climbing adventures I've had, but I'm kind of terrible at it, and it scares me every time I start moving up the wall. I don't even own a rope, and I don't know how to do much other than tie myself into a harness and belay. "Real" climbers have tons of expensive gear, lead hard pitches on steep rock faces every weekend, and never get scared. Or so I think. I'm certainly not about to call myself a runner. I'm slow, and I don't go very far, and I mostly hate doing it anyways. I know a lot of "real" runners and they all run half marathons and get a runner's high every time they lace up their shoes. Or so I think. I'm not a CrossFitter. I've tried it and mostly just felt like I was one clean and jerk away from hurting myself. The "real" CrossFitters make smooth, controlled movements and actually know what 90% of their max weight is and are always getting stronger. Or so I think.
So what am I?
Today I went for a run. I've been struggling with running for years. I want to be better at it, and I keep trying to be better at it, but so far I haven't had much success. But I keep putting on my running shoes anyway, keep heading out the door with hopes that maybe this run will be better, maybe today it won't feel so hard. I went for a run today, and I kept running, and kept running. All the things that usually hurt still hurt, but I kept running. I made it 3.5 miles before I stopped today. More than I've been able to run in a long time. It felt really, really good. So am I a runner now?
What makes us what we are? Is it our gender? Our occupation? Our status as single, married, or divorced? Or is it our passions, our dreams, our ambitions?
Today I was a runner. I ran. I didn't run fast, and I didn't run very far, but I pushed through discomfort and the desire to just stop and walk because I wanted to keep going, I wanted to go further, I didn't want to quit. Maybe tomorrow I'll be a climber when I go to the climbing gym and tie into the rope and head up the wall, despite my fear and my lack of confidence in my skills. Maybe in a few weeks I'll be a backpacker, when I haul my too-heavy pack overstuffed with things I probably don't really need onto my back and head into the mountains, because I love carrying everything I need on my back and walking off into the woods.
Maybe what we are only matters to our inner voices, the ones that tell us we're not fast enough, not strong enough, not brave enough. Maybe we prove what we are when we ignore those voices and just go for it. You don't have to run an 8 minute mile to be a runner, you don't have to climb 5.12s to be a climber, you don't have to clean and jerk 100lbs to feel strong, and you don't have to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to be a backpacker. You can be all those things, you can be anything, if you just try. Just put one foot in front of the other, get out the door, make an effort, don't quit. You are what your desire and your perseverance pushes you towards. Maybe today you aren't a runner, but tomorrow you can be. All you have to do is run.