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Don’t Measure Yourself by What You Can’t Do

MeasuringIt’s easy to think negative thoughts. It’s even easier when you’re in a rough patch – that’s when the negative can eat the positive for breakfast and leave you with nothing the rest of the day.

I can’t run a competitive 5k, 10k, half-marathon, or marathon like my friends who are getting in shape. For whatever reason, that really bothers me. As a kid, I used to love “field day” when we’d have track and field fun by grade and find the fastest and strongest in each category. I always wanted to be labeled “the fastest kid in the class” but I was too short and my stride wasn’t long enough.

Those races led to doing track in the 7th grade: the unfortunate year that I had excruciating growing pains in my knees. We saw the doctor and everything was normal. “Just run through the pain,” he said. I had to run a 1/4 mile every practice or race to get over the pain to be able to run free. That taught me a valuable lesson that I didn’t realize for many more years:

Life’s good things aren’t just going to be handed to me; I must be willing to go an extra [quarter] mile.

I’m starting to get into a drive for physical prowess for the first time in a decade. Starting my daily walks felt shameful to me. Walking! Anyone can walk; I want to run! Actually, I loathe running. I hated it in track, baseball, and football. I especially hated it in basketball, which is why I never played full-court b-ball. Yet, here I am wanting to run, so I must be exhibiting some sort of split personality.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do

Yes, to some degree. I don’t want to run for the love of running. I want to run because I can’t run. I don’t like to be limited by broad generalizations. I’m more stubborn than any mule you’ll ever find. That stubbornness has served me well over the last 3 decades – except when it’s been a detriment because I’m in denial about my situation and need to do treatments.

When I’m given a limitation, I always try to break it. Recovery times after surgery, especially. I’m known to have surgery and be back in action the next day or 2 days later. It’s what I do, and I do it very well.

Running for the sake of breaking the status quo is my next thing. A month ago, I would get winded walking around doing errands with Beautiful. I could only make a couple of stops each outing because getting in and out of the car, walking in, walking around, and getting back in the car exhausted me. More shame. I knew it frustrated Beautiful. She just wanted to spend time with me, and I would have to pull the plug earlier than she planned.

Change your measuring stick

When we were at clinic, the doctor laughed when I was frustrated that I couldn’t do certain things I used to do. “You’ve got the lungs of an 80-yr old!” he said. “You’re not supposed to feel good doing that.” Oh! Well, when you put it that way… My grandpa is 81, so all I have to do is ask myself “WCGD?”

What can Grandpa do?

For me, it’s the easiest measure to determine when I’m using excuses or when I’m “acting my age” according to my lungs. If I’d feel bad asking my grandpa to do something, I don’t feel bad politely responding that it wouldn’t be a good choice for me. Any time I do something we wouldn’t expect Grandpa to do, I am pushing myself and I need to reward myself and also take time to recover.

Two breakthroughs yesterday

First: my morning walk to the next neighborhood to the gym included doing my back (already did arms, legs, and chest). On the way back, I decided to jog to the end of the fence running behind the houses. I figured it to be a bit less than 1/4 mile and I’d already walked a certain portion, so I’m guessing it to be ~200yds. I did it with no coughing or later hemoptysis!

Second: we went to Target to get storage for under our bed to clear out our closets of bulky things. We went to the container section first and looked at the prices and sizes. Beautiful asked me if I’d like to put some in the cart before we went to look at the vacuum-sealed bags that squish the clothes. “Nah, I feel good enough to walk back here if the price sucks.” I surprised myself again when we got home and I hung up the keys as I realized that I wasn’t at all winded or tired – a first in years.

So, don’t measure yourself by what you can’t do today that you once used to do, but by what you can do today that you couldn’t do yesterday.


  1. Brittney Riley says

    I like the idea of changing your measuring stick. I have a bad habit of comparing myself to the person I was in 2007. A lot has changed, yet I still feel like a failure. I can’t make it through a full day at school (on rotations) without having to stay home a day once a week because I over did it. I used to work full time, go to school full time, and have a part time job all at the same time. Yeah, that ain’t happening anymore. And I hate it.

  2. I smiled all the way through this, Jesse. Especially the parts where you wrote about your stubbornness and how that’s both good and bad — and how you love to push yourself. Just how I describe you.

    You keep right on being stubborn. I like it even more now that you’re using it so positively. By the way, it sounds to me like that Spiriva has really helped you get out of the tight lung trap so you can exercise now.

    • Just as good as my abx nebs are at handling infections, Spiriva has been the tipping point catalyst to get me off the couch where I was barely getting by. Now I’m walking and running with fewer asthma issues than when I wasn’t pushing it.
      I like pushing it again.

  3. Ronnie Sharpe says

    Great job Jesse! Running does indeed suck but I’m glad you found a reason to strive to do it. That’s what a journey to better health always starts with 🙂 Keep it up. It’s going to suck most days, but then again, getting winded walking around a store sucks more. Been there, hated that.

  4. Annabel Clouston says

    I, too, smiled all the way through because your words rung true to how I feel about myself. Being stubborn and wanting to run only because you cannot. I hate running but it’s one the things I want to be able to do the most! It’s a joy to read about your fitness improvements, you are forming the thought in my head “If he can do it, so can I!” There’s that competitive CF nature coming out!

    • Hehe, would it help you more if I told you that you can’t do it? /wink
      I’m a firm believer that CFers are of one of two distinguishing categories: doers and downers. You’re clearly a doer. Go get ’em!