Thursday, January 27, 2011

Treading on Butterflies

Butterflies have been constant companions of mine.  Not the cute yellow flutter bugs or the majestic Monarch, but rather the ones that hatch from cocoons deep in my stomach at just the moment I realize something may go horribly wrong.  The long walk to take a test for which I did not study.  The approach to ask a girl out on a date whom is out of my league.  Lining up for my first marathon with an uncertain ankle.  Peering over the precipice of a sheer granite face. (I realized this week I am not afraid of heights.  I am afraid of falling.  This perspective came to me when I considered why I dislike pull ups.  I am afraid of falling. Figure that one out.)

My butterflies swarm for numerous reasons.  Nerves.  Fear.  Uncertainty.  Anticipation of the unknown and all the perils that my twisted mind can imagine.  These feelings of dread or terror are usually borne of new love, loss of control at work, new and unprepared adventure or by simply moving outside one's comfort zone.

What does the presence of butterflies say about the sufferer?  How does the absence of said uneasiness also define someone?  Does a lack of butterflies bely an iron nerve, or boredom with the task at hand?

To me the nervousness and terror that accompany the swarm represents a fear of failure.  The dreaded "NO".  The unsurmountable obstacle.  The feeling of being "not good enough".  What I discovered is that by removing the opportunity to fail the butterflies are unable to take flight.

Am I advocating staying locked away and not trying to overcome my fears?  To the contrary, I am saying to examine what drives your fear and go the opposite direction.  Set your course to your own greatness.  Resolve that you will best that obstacle, but in your own way.  Smash through and scatter the butterflies to the winds.  If you cannot beat another runner, beat the clock.  If you are unable to go faster, go farther.  If you cannot go farther, at least go and drop any worries about how you look in the process.

When I first stepped into a 5k race ten months ago I was scared.  The first quarter mile was a nightmare.  My feet felt as if they belonged to another body.  I wondered whether I belonged in the front or whether I was more suited to the middle.  Maybe the back of the pack was more realistic.  I had no clue.

Was I fast enough?  Was I strong enough?  Hell, did I even look like a runner? (I hear these questions or self-criticisms online daily.  My thought - stuff it!  Get out there and do whatever you are capable of today.  Any result is one thousand percent better than what you could accomplish staying on the couch.)

I have a better idea of my capabilities now.  My nervousness has been supplanted by reassurance.  With each mile I feel more at home in my own skin.  With each run I feel more comfortable with my own sinew and bone.  And with each race I feel less afraid of what I was and more certain of what I am.  While butterflies once swarmed and flittered around my stomach they now tread under foot (or under VFF to be more precise).  Every step removes self-doubt.  Every stride puts distance between me and my insecurity.  My recent pacing may be due less to running from something but more to running toward something better.  Toward positive self-talk.  Toward appreciating my reflection in a mirror.  Toward breaking the  chains of self-restraint and achieving what I want or need in life.

I don't run to crush those loose butterflies under foot.  That would mean stomping through a run and stomping through life.  That leads to pain and discomfort both physical and emotional.  Rather I glide over those butterflies.  Hopping from one to another staying light and fluid so as not to kill them.  I may need the fretfulness to again remind me that some avenues are not worth exploring.  The swarm is a warning to stay clear of unnecessary dangers.

When I step out my door for a long run I am no longer anxious, except to get my legs churning.  When I step up to the starting line of a race I am no longer lost.  My only challenge is to be better than yesterday, in whatever way possible.


  1. well-said! i believe the words of one of my favorite actors are also applicable: "courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." running is all about getting out there and doing your own thing.

  2. or, another option is to get over the fear. fear is what holds people back and keeps them from thriving, taking risks, and making the most out of their lives. who cares if someone says no to you or doesn't think you're good enough? those things only matter if you make them.