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What You See

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
– Heraclitus

Running has been a big part of my life for the past several years. At first, it was a way to get my kids active and create more family time; together, we completed lots of “fun runs” and events with fun “hooks”, like running across home plate or through the zoo. Then it became a way for me to fit in exercise while traveling for work, to counteract the hours of airplane confinement.

Today, running has evolved into a central part of my routine, and the benefits I see from it have expanded, too. Sharing running routes around the world is a great way to engage with my colleagues (don’t run INSIDE the Imperial Palace ground in Tokyo, but the 5k scenic loop around the outside is a treat!). Running helps me holding space for my mind to process new ideas and challenges; I almost always return home from a run feeling refreshed and inspired, and even if my work day doesn’t go the way I planned, I have the satisfaction of having completed a great run in the morning.

This summer, I ran some really fun races. Most recently, I completed the Giant Race in San Francisco. On a perfect, sunny morning (a rarity in a city known for its summer fog), I ran past iconic tourist attractions like AT&T Park, the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoying amazing views and cool breezes the entire way.

As I looked around at the thousands of other runners on the course, I found myself reflecting on the Thoreau quote above: It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

I was looking at all kinds of body types—lean, long-limbed college students, middle-aged recreational athletes, men and women who’d generally be classified as overweight, grey-haired seniors, and spry kids as young as eight and nine. But I found myself consciously choosing what to see. I saw an overweight runner as a resilient and persistent woman who’d already lost 50 pounds, and an elderly man as a grandfather determined to stay fit enough to play with his grandkids. Above all, I saw people participating in the celebration of running, moving their bodies for the sheer joy of expressing themselves.

P.S. – I run for the chocolate milk.

When I look in the mirror, I go through the same exercise. I look at a body that doesn’t fit the description of an ideal runner. But I see someone who can go out and run 3-5 miles any day of the week, and complete a half marathon with a little training. I see a capable, athletic individual who derives deep satisfaction from movement.

We’ve all had the experience of judging our own or another’s worth based on what we’re looking at, without thinking deeply about what we choose to see:

  • When you step on a scale, do you see a commentary on your character, or just a number that provides feedback on the choices you made this week?
  • When you watch a friend dig into a piece of birthday cake, do you scoff at her disregard for diet and health? Or do you see her sharing in a celebration of someone’s life, and enjoying a well-deserved indulgence in the company of friends?
  • When meeting a new group of colleagues for the first time, do you assume that the most senior man is the boss, and that the young woman in jeans lacks authority?
  • When someone draws attention to the fact that your age, gender, race, or educational background doesn’t match the norm for your field, do you question your own abilities? Or do you see your unique perspective as a professional asset?

Choosing to see in a negative light can hurt your confidence and your relationships. Choosing to see positively can help you recognize your strengths, cultivate empathy, and reduce your stress.

Have you recently made a conscious choice to see something differently? How did your new perception affect your life or career? Share your story below.

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