I was talking to my brother the other day on Facetime. Having just returned from a run, he asked me how it was. Currently we are living in Mexico City, which is at 2500 meters altitude. So I told him it was tough. The air is thin, your lungs feel restricted and your body has to work harder. Having done a lot of runs over the years, I joked about how I was in altitude training and couldn’t wait to get back to Melbourne and run at sea level. I said ‘I am excited as the rewards will pay off and I will finally find it easy’. In a serious tone, he replied ‘it doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster’. (Which is apparently a quote by cyclist and Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond). Since then, I have thought about this a lot. Firstly, how this applies to so many areas of life.
And secondly, why did I want to find it easy?
Living in Mexico, I am on a mission to improve my Spanish. Everyday I am surrounded by people speaking a language that is not my own. I drive to work listening to Spanish talk back and music on the radio, I sit in meetings with customers and colleagues speaking Spanish, I order coffee, food and beers in Spanish and attempt to build relationships and friendships in Spanish.
This is a constant challenge and I keep telling myself that ‘it will only get easier’.
But after two months here I don’t feel like it has. I still feel like my skills and knowledge are pushed to their extreme just as they were on day one. I experience the same level of discomfort when I feel that I can not portray my true character in this second language. Even though my grasp of Spanish is definitely advancing everyday, I don’t feel any closer to finding my job here easy. And since the conversation with my brother I have been thinking about how the goal of getting to the point of ‘easy’ means I am focussing on the wrong thing.
In regards to my Spanish, on day one there was a whole lot of unknown. As little bits of this unknown become clear, I also learn more about what I didn’t know. And so the cycle continues. As I learn more, I speak more, people reply more, the language we start using is more complex and of course both myself and my amigos speak faster. Although in the midst of it, I miss that they are using the subjunctive, I get confused with the verbs and lose track of the conversation. At then at the end of it, all I remember is that it is not easy… yet.
As we develop a new skill the challenges that we take on grow in parallel with this new capacity to achieve them.
Just like when I was telling my brother about how I was excited to run back at sea level and find myself floating free in this fit, sunny world of easy running, I was hoping to achieve the same with my Spanish. Although I do hope to be able to talk and joke and work like I currently do in English, getting to a point of easy should not be my goal.
I use to also look at Haile Gebrselassie and think how he made the marathon look so easy. That compared to how I huffed and puffed my way around the 42km course he just glides around in world record time with ease. But of course he doesn’t. The pain and fatigue that he feels is probably greater and more intense than the average runner. Running never got easier for him, it just got faster.
So why would I want to get to easy?
Because then I can relax, do nothing and be content. But I am someone who likes challenges, who likes learning and growing. Why would I want an empty to do list, with no actions for further improvements. I don’t. It is just a default response to focus on things that are currently difficult and how much better life will be when they are easier.
Instead I need to enjoy the process of getting faster. Not focus on reducing the energy that is going into the activity but instead on what is being achieved in the process. The little achievements along the way. Like that last week I finished my first full novel in Spanish, and ran in a 16km Fun Run at an altitude 500m above any mountain in Australia. Both of them were definitely not easy… nor fast. But now I am already onto the next challenges. A new book and a longer run. This to do list will never be clear. The process continues. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster.