Taking Responsibility

by maxcharge


One reason I love running is that my runs are a microcosm of my life. The stress created by running causes every struggle, doubt, and frustration I face in life to come to surface, distilled and amplified. This story is about one such run. I’m not proud of how I acted, but I learned a powerful lesson that I feel the urge to share, and then hopefully put to good use.

Some time ago, I went on a tempo run. A tempo run is a specific kind of training run where you warm up for a while, and then run a predetermined distance at what is usually described as a “comfortably hard” pace. I’ve found that it’s not all that comfortable. You’re not all-out sprinting (which isn’t sustainable over the long run), but pushing your body to run at a challenging pace over a set distance. This builds speed and endurance.

Although it was a hot and humid July night, my mile-long warm-up felt good. After warming up, I slowed down for a bit, caught my breath, put on a playlist of motivational songs, and took off for my hard mile at tempo. I enjoy tempo runs; they’re challenging, but I can feel my endurance and sense of control improve with each run. The hard middle mile takes unwavering physical focus, and as I run, I use my (very limited) mental abilities to keep track of traffic lights and cars. Occasionally, I see aggressive or careless drivers, and think about telling them off, but I’ve always managed to avoid them, and have never run into any trouble.

So, there I am, about half way through my mile, pushing hard to keep my pace up. I start to cross the street when I see a car coming up on my right, barely touch-and-go at a stop sign, and turn towards me, driving at a red light to my left. Needless to say, I’m not doing a lot of hard thinking at this point – I am wholly focused on my run, my brain devoid of blood and cognitive ability. So, I wave my hand angrily at the middle-aged man driving the car, expecting him to stop. Except, he doesn’t stop. He keeps driving towards me, at the red light behind me, and brakes at the very last moment, furrows his brow and motions angrily right back at me. At that point, something within me snaps, and I abruptly stop and turn towards the driver.

(Now, for the sake of this story, let’s assume that I’m right on the traffic law. I’ve included a little diagram below so you could judge for yourself. My reaction was poor regardless, and would have been that much worse if I was wrong.)

So, I stop right in the middle of the empty, night-time road and turn towards the driver. For the first time in my life, I am yelling at the car like a lunatic, with zero regard for what I look like or whether he can even hear me. I’m incensed, antagonized that the guy almost drove through a red light with no regard for my safety, and that he has the gall to argue with me when he’s so clearly wrong. I flip him off, I’m waving my arms like a madman, motioning aggressively at the (bright red) traffic light behind me, shouting obscenity-laced arguments: “Are you fucking crazy? What? What? What do you got!? The light is clearly red, you fucking idiot! It’s red! Can’t you fucking see?” He is waving his arms inside the car, yelling back at me, and I’m pretty sure neither of us can hear and don’t care to hear, what the other is saying.

After about ten seconds of this, I see him ease up and look away, whether because he realizes he’s wrong, or that I’m a madman and there’s no calming me down. That’s enough for me – he’s backed down, so I’ve gotten my fill. I turn back to my route, and resume my mile run.

And as I finally cross the street and turn my mind back towards running, it suddenly hits me – I still have to run the rest of my hard mile, and now I’m tired because I’ve wasted so much energy yelling at some guy I’ll never see again. It dawns on me, that it was easier to confront someone for their faults than to confront myself to run a hard mile.

As I continue to run, now out of breath, I slowly realize how many times in my life I’ve been in a less intense version of this situation. A friend, colleague, or manager would say or do something that seemed unjust, and I would let it get under my skin, overwhelm me to the detriment of my goals and my work. I’d sit there and steep, fantasizing about proving them wrong, instead of pursuing whatever my actual goals were. And now, this stranger was everyone I never got to speak my mind to, and I exploded with all the things I never got to say.

And it did nothing for me. Traffic laws to hell, this outburst only hurt me and my run. The truth is, it was my responsibility to watch the lights and signs, keep myself safe, and not wholly expect drivers to do the right thing. It did nothing for me to yell at a guy who broke the law, and I didn’t even choose to stop and set the guy straight. In the heat of the moment, it was easier to chase the satisfaction of being right than to chase a faster mile.
I finished my tempo run a bit slower and a lot more tired than usual, humbled by my reaction, processing the takeaway:

It’s often easier to confront others about their faults than confront yourself about what really matters.

You might be thinking that there are caveats worth considering. It’s never this simple in real life, and people are rarely that inconsequential. Perhaps my anger was justified; the driver was reckless and could have actually hurt me, calling him out might have prevented further accidents, it’s important to stick up for yourself, and so on. But, regardless of whether I was right was wrong, losing control was not justified. I’ll trust you to follow my point and let the caveats go in light the larger lesson.

It’s been a few weeks now, and I watch drivers more carefully when when I run. Sometimes they’re less careful than they should be, but I try to focus on the road and remember where the real challenge is.

In case you’re curious, here’s how it went down: