Achievements: Expectations vs. Reality and Dealing with Initial Fear, Imagination & Potential Disappointment

automat

Automat

Edward Hopper, 1927.


Note: Oh goodness, this is the wordiest title I’ve ever written for just about anything (including research papers for my psychology classes), but it’s relevant – I swear.


I’ve managed to complete a goal that I labeled as impossible for the past five years.

I ran my first half marathon (21.0975 kilometers / 13.1 miles) on the 15th of April, 2018 at Taipei, Taiwan, starting at 5:30 am sharp and completed it precisely two hours, thirty-eight minutes and fifty-one seconds later.

I’m not fast at all, and I’m painfully aware of that in an accepting manner. However, in the midst of my relapse, I’m somewhat impressed that I dragged my ass to a city that’s two hours away from me (by high speed rail train, or four hours drive for reference) mainly for a race. I met up with my longtime friend who happened to be back to Taiwan for dinner prior to my run as well. I’ve broken out of my comfort zone by becoming a running partner / acquaintance with another participant before the half marathon and ran with her the entire time. We helped each other out by running together for sure. The point is: I’m definitely trying here.

My legs started stiffening as I piled up the distance step by step. The pouring rain along with the winds did not provide much help at first as it was a bit too chilly, and the dampness caused by a mix of my perspiration and the rainwater brought out my goosebumps almost immediately. In addition to that, in my opinion, one of the most disgusting sensations ever is to have wet socks on. Imagine running with drenched shoes and socks on – yes, it was absolutely horrendous.

The half marathon seemed so daunting, especially moments prior to the gunshot that signified the start of the race.

But if I were to break it down completely…it was just a run.

Sure, it was a long distance run, but that was pretty much it.

I was expecting an overwhelming wave of personal pride and a sense of accomplishment after crossing the finish line and recovering from my initial physical shock, but that feeling never came – not even with a self-prolonged refractory period. This bothered me. I completed a goal, no, a dream that I deemed for my entire life (up until the moment that I ran past the finish line) that I would not be able to succeed in. Then, when the particular instance smacked me right in the face, I was incapable of feeling more than an iota of achievement. It wasn’t simply because of my depression, as I have been straying from apathy these days. My internal exasperation increased exponentially as I started receiving a flood of congratulatory messages from my friends about my overdue half marathon goal attainment.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

In the face of praise, admiration, and a bit of craziness (I mean, who in their right mind would want to tackle a half marathon, let’s be honest over here), I contemplated about the reasoning behind my underwhelming reaction.

We all know that there’s a discrepancy between expectations and reality, but what we don’t acknowledge enough is that we tend to run too wild with our imagination (yes, we can all say that we’re envisioning outcomes in an objective, realistic manner over here) as it gets fueled up with our personalized fears.

So, what do we do when we finally get a taste of victory that we longed for, only to find out that it wasn’t as grandiose and exciting as we were expecting it to be?

What do we do when we realize that what was considered as a turning or defining point for us, as an individual, wasn’t actually that life changing in retrospect?

How do we deal with the aftermath and potential disappointment and proceed?

Sometimes I really dislike being introspective, because I should just shut up and enjoy the hell out of my shiny, brand new accomplishment. Obviously, being inactive physically and mentally doesn’t sit well or long with me.


morning-sun

Morning Sun

Edward Hopper, 1952.


Imagination, according to Oxford Dictionary, means:

1   The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not       present to the senses.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with imagination as long as we proceed with moderation. We all tend to float into hypothetical at times. In fact, it facilitates us to break standards and “think outside the box”, which in turn creates new ideas, inspiration, and solutions. Any change, no matter how minuscule, can potentially cause a ripple effect in one’s life. We also envision scenarios where we’ve managed to accomplish a goal, master a skill, begin a new career, or start a relationship with our crush and these thoughts make us feel good.

Occasionally, we do get inspired and start to take action and work towards these goals when we decide that we truly want to achieve them. During that process, when the discrepancy between reality and expectation gets too high, we might realize that what we thought we wanted does not seem as alluring to us anymore. Then we give up. This process is completely acceptable and extremely ubiquitous (in case you were feeling bad about yourself).

So, imagination is a pretty neat tool at times. However, it is a double edged sword as it can be used as a way to temporarily and / or permanently escape from reality.

That is dangerous.

There will always be moments where the present is inflicting pain. Imagination can be used as an escape for some to avoid direct confrontation to the current issues. What can go hand in hand with this is negligence, and that’s when the “if I ignore my problems or conflicts long enough, they will disappear” mentality comes to play.

I obviously know this, because I’m a veteran when it comes to escaping, ignoring, disappearing and silent treatments during uncomfortable times, with or without others. I try not to do it now, but I do fall back into my old ways at times (then I try my best to fix and mend the situation the best I can now, because taking accountability is important).

Why do we run away from our problems?

There are so many answers out there, but the main reason boils down to fear.

We each have different building blocks that formulate our personalized fears, so in my case with the half marathon, it was simply because I didn’t think that I had it in me to complete a run with such distance.

If I were to break it down, the rationale behind my belief would be due to the fact that I was never an athletic child. I was the fat kid who was consistently chosen last during sports class. I got judged severely by my physical appearances, and that made me feel extremely insecure about me and I focused on my personal value based on how I looked, which in turn spiraled into eating issues. I lost weight through running and food deprivation, but I’ve been trying my best to mend my relationship with food and myself. Completing a half marathon would be a milestone for me, since I’m approaching running in a non-destructive and a healthy way.

See how everything is in a full circle again? We tend to avoid discomfort, so we’re comfortably uncomfortable in the zone that we’ve set ourselves up with. This is truly human nature, but if one day you decide to overcome it by taking a step towards change…it will eventually be worth it (even though it might not seem like it at the moment).

My contradicting thoughts, fueled with terror, stopped me from driving myself into action. On the one hand, I desperately wanted to sign up for a race and to prove to myself that I am recovering, albeit how slow my progress was. However, I was also extremely scared that I would suffer through the process and still fail, which in turn meant that I was still the same person as I was a decade ago – the fat girl who wanted external validation from her parents and peers and decided to obtain that through self-destructive methods. Or, in short, I would still be a failure, and that nothing has changed.

What’s stopping you?


compartment-c-car

Compartment C Car

Edward Hopper, 1938.


I signed up for my race on the 15th of January, 2018, which was exactly three months before the big day.

I thought about letting this run slide, but one of my closest friend was reminding me to sign up daily. He was the one who ignited a spark of courage into my life ever since his visit to Taiwan, as I’ve done things that I’ve never thought I would ever do (at least, in my right mind).

Ever since his arrival last October, I’ve managed to do a few things such as:

  • Confess my feelings / interests in an upfront and respectable manner (at least, that’s what I think and hope) to someone instead of playing games or being a challenge (to elaborate: I was expressing how I felt and asking him about his interests / feelings towards me, and not asking him to be together immediately, because that’s stressful and way too soon…and well, if he’s not into me, I could nip this in the bud and be friends without intentions).
  • Discuss in a calm manner…at least, on my side, with each of my parents in regards to my future direction in life.
  • Sign up and actually run a half marathon (more credit since I’ve done it in the midst of my depressive episode).

My pessimism created a loom of eternal dread as I fabricated the worst outcome every single time in my mind:

  • I’d be rejected by the person I liked and hated for it, because I was inadequate and he could probably find someone who was better looking, kinder, funnier…you get the gist.
  • I’d be disowned by my parents, because I didn’t want to follow the path that they have paved for me.
  • I would twist my ankle, break my leg, throw up bile, and faint during my half marathon, and I wouldn’t be able to complete it despite all of the physical pain.

It’s easy to be entrenched with the fatal outcomes that I have created and replayed countless times in my head. After all, if all of these unbearable results were to happen if I were to take action, wouldn’t it be better to remain stagnant? The current situation wasn’t ideal, nor was it close to any speck of greatness, but it was…safe. I didn’t cross anyone’s boundaries or said anything that could offend or hurt someone.

The only person I was hurting was myself, and that seemed to be a better option than to inflict suffering on people I care about.

It was self-sabotage, and I was more than eager to jump on the train to take advantage of that for the fear of any action. The obscure common denominator for all three of these separate experiences? Fear of failure and disappointing others. I’ve placed others above myself for as long as I could remember.

I used to think that if I were to execute these instances that I have listed above, they would be life changing. I would suddenly be able to understand more about myself, and miraculously discover the path that I was meant to be in. This, in turn, would have the effect of dissipating some of my insecurity, uncertainty, and unhappiness.

I could not be more wrong.

Being able to possess the courage to do what I have always been too afraid to do was admirable. I was stepping out of my comfort zone for once, and not prioritizing the outcome. Staying the same deemed to be too painful for me, because I wasn’t able to encounter any sort of change by remaining the same. That’s when I decided to take a risk. Since I’ve barely taken the unknown route, I expected some sort of marvelous life change after breaking free.

The results were a lot more underwhelming in reality.

It was hard to grasp why and how inconsequential these deeds were after they were done, despite the good and bad, ups and downs, or my smiles and tears / frowns. I’ve managed to embellish and flourish the shit out of how much more valuable of a person I would become after these actions, because I never had the valor to execute them. It was all safe and sound in my head. It was all a hypothetical, because deep down, I knew that I most likely couldn’t muster the courage to do it. Then I did.

Shit.

I was fucking disappointed.


cape-cod-morning

Cape Cod Morning

Edward Hopper, 1950.


There are various events in life that can be considered as our defining points, but really, it depends on each individual. Some experiences are considered as bigger, and well, they do stir up more changes, such as moving / relocating to another country, either for work, education, family, or just because you want to. Some are smaller in comparison, such as attending a party and meeting someone.

Those moments, no matter how magnifying or minuscule they are objectively, are crucial as long as they exert some sort of influence on your personal growth.

I questioned myself why I didn’t feel so accomplished after my success, and it was because I envisioned myself struggling and in (a lot more) pain during my run. The suffering – whether it’s an ankle twist, leg pain, or knee pain, would gloss and touch up on my success. I would be more like the underdog that I was supposed to be, but still end up winning against all odds thrown at me from the world in the end.

Pretty fucking stupid, isn’t it?

I resumed running since the beginning of last August, and even though I stopped during a good part of November (my friend was here) and end of February / March (depression), I slowly integrated exercising back into my life.

It was hell at first. I felt the stomach muscle soreness, breathlessness, and ankle / knee / leg pain during different practices.

I experienced minimal pain during the run, because of the effort I’ve placed into my goal for the past nine months. The numerous conditioning, training, eating healthily (most of the time), and cutting down on alcohol were factors that contributed to how smoothly my half marathon went last Sunday. I discounted the work I’ve put into attaining my goal and highlighted the lack of pain at the moment. No matter much struggle I were to go through, the distance remained constant. It was illogical to aggrandize my achievement through the measures of how uncomfortable I was feeling.

I started out as someone who could barely run a kilometer, to someone who can run twenty-one.

Perhaps it’s not the precise moment that matters the most as we tend to ignore the progress. Growing and improving are both painful feats that we are consistently encountering. No one can ever truly pinpoint the day that he / she has mastered a certain finesse. With the help of time and experience, the tasks that we face usually get a bit more familiar, and then in turn, a lot easier.

If you can commit to the process of achieving your goals, and stick through it thick and thin despite recurring thoughts of giving up, then one day you will get there. The roads might be a lot bumpier or smoother than you envisioned, but exerting productive work out there will get you somewhere, even if it wasn’t the original destination you were aiming for.

The unreachable will seem just a little bit more within your grasp. When you wake up one day, whatever it is that you were chasing after is going to be right next to you. It might not be a huge moment with fireworks and champagne like you have always imagined, but in retrospect, is it that important? Is your imagination more significant than the reality that you are currently looking straight at? I would certainly hope not.

I’ve ran a fucking half marathon; what’s not to be celebratory about? I was unimpressed by my performance – not because of my run time, but due to my capability to complete the course without much physical struggle despite the fact that I am swimming in the depths of depression? Can I please get a damn grip over here?

One of the most key points that I’ve noticed through my introspection and epiphany was: not every success and failure has to be dramatic for it to hold its significance.

It’s more than just okay for life changing affairs to not be as climactic as we made them out to be in our fantasies. We don’t necessarily have to feel like we are martyrs in our own lives and beating seemingly impossible hardships consistently to feel paramount. That is a common occurrence in books, movies, and television shows, and let’s not even start about how most of them are aggrandized and far away from reality.

The truth is – our lives will be boring at times. We’ll fall into a routine, stay or settle in the same place for a while, maintain the same relationships, and we’ll more or less be a bit restless and weary. When we pass our the threshold of discomfort, the motivation to change kicks in, and often times we do find ourselves fueled with drive to act. Motivation is fleeting though. It’s similar to grabbing a fist full of sand that eventually flow out of your hand.

It’s unsustainable.

There are times that when we run out of motivation, all we want to ever do is to kick back and display the “fuck it all, why even bother, because I’m going to fail anyway” mentality. The work piled in front seems insurmountable, and it’s too much. There are too many stakes and uncertainty. There are no guarantees that success will be knocking at our doors even when we put in the work. What if we were to put in the effort just to find out that we actually don’t give that much shit about what we dredged for?

Either way we’re fucked, right?

Yes, we are.

We’re fucked whether we try or not, and we’re all eventually going to die anyway. Typically this is where our fears come into play and forecast how agonizing our lives will become by tenfold if we were to give whatever it is that we want a shot.

Stop it. It’s not as if our lives are better with our inaction. A lot of us have been maintaining our distressing status quo and blindly hoping that everything will somehow change for the good…one day. Chances are, it does not work that way. We wound up with disappointment without even trying, so what is the harm in giving our goals a shot?

There are none. Most of the hesitation are excuses for us to feed ourselves in order to avoid responsibility without guilt tripping and making us look too terrible. The fear, combined with not actually wanting to achieve the objectives as much as we thought we want to, stop us.

So really think about it. Perhaps you haven’t done certain activities that you have talked about for an extended period of time, because you do not crave for it as much as you think you do.

Start finding the things that light you up. The ones that you would, or you think are worthy enough to break out your comfort zones for. Take off your rose tinted glasses, and cease to compare the discrepancy between reality and expectations. We’ll always be so much better off in the depths of imagination, but it’s time to wake up and realize that it isn’t real.

There will be achievements that will make you feel like you are on top of the world.

Stop only dreaming, and start doing.

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