Exactly 5.44 miles into my hellacious hill run yesterday, I spotted an older gentleman staring me down from halfway up the hill that was just ahead. I saw his lips softly open and then curl up into a smile. As I approached him, I swiftly jerked my left earbud from my ear, and then immediately my right, cutting out the music so I could hear his words.
“Pardon?” I uttered.
“Good for you,” he replied. “You’re doing great.”
“I’m struggling,” I said, almost instinctively, as if my gasping for air and red face weren’t indication enough.
“Just keep going,” he said, still smiling.
And so I smiled back, charged the hill and did just what he said. I just kept going.
Just keep going is such a simple phrase, yet it is one that can hold an infinite amount of power. Even though I play these three words on repeat in my head every single day without too much thought, somehow it took a stranger saying them out loud, directly to me, for them to hit home. Before my path crossed with his, I was hot and I was tired and I was beginning to feel twinges of pain in my heavy legs and the gradual rubbing of blisters underneath my toes. I wanted to do everything except just keep going.
And then I saw this gentleman who was doing his best to get out for a walk, slowly taking it step by step. This gentleman took a moment out of his day to stop, turn, smile, look me in the eyes, and tell me he thought I was doing great, and encourage me to just keep going. Just like he was.
Following my interaction with this gentleman, despite the struggle I felt I was running against, all I wanted to do was just keep going.
I recently wrote a piece on quitting, titled “It’s Okay to Quit.” The truth is, once everything in your life rips you apart and explodes to the point of it almost forcing your clenched fists open, and demands you throw it all down on the ground, quit and start over, you don’t get to stop there. Quitting is only half the battle. If there is anything that quitting does, it positions you to just keep going. In fact, you basically owe it to yourself to just keep going now that you’ve broken away from all that you defined as holding you back. Now that you’ve started over, you’re only just starting. If there’s anything standing in your way from this point forward, it’s you.
Just keep going may necessitate glancing back from time to time at the things you quit for added perspective, but only for a moment, not long enough to allow yourself to reawaken confusion or stir up lost longing. You don’t get to sit back down, or try and scoop together all the things that you’ve thrown on the ground when the going gets tough. You don’t get to go back to what your life looked like before you decided to quit either, or try and figure out what you couldn’t understand then. There’s nothing there for you that you need. Certainly no answers that time will deliver you, just more unanswerable questions that will always linger. Remember?
Just keep going looks a lot like branching out and making moves in directions that feel against the grain and even downright uncomfortable. Some days it looks a lot like writing when you feel like you have nothing to say. Others, like yesterday, it looks a lot like running a few more miles when you aren’t sure your legs can carry you another single step.
Everyday it looks a lot like believing halfheartedly in something, in anything you are doing, until you can wholeheartedly believe in yourself. It looks a lot like letting your heart out of the cage you’ve carefully constructed, slowly but surely. It looks a lot like being honest with those you care about, and inviting them in to share in your journey, rather than forcing them to the outside, or keeping them at what appears to be a safe distance. It looks a lot like doing something you are afraid to do, or conquering something you at one point felt you didn’t have the strength or courage to take on. It looks a lot like being okay with not knowing exactly where you’re going, but being willing to do anything, and everything, to just keep going somewhere.
Even on days that feel like false starts, just keep going looks a lot like meeting yourself wherever it is you are, and doing whatever it takes to remember the vast amount of opportunity that exists just by being alive in the present moment. And that being alive in itself is enough to just keep going.