For most of my life I’ve been a runner. Not the athletic variety. When things got tough, uncomfortable, or too hard, I left.
The list of casualties from this type of behavior is long. You can ask any runner and they will tell you that burning inside of them is a fiery guilt for the way they’ve left things. My list includes leaving a serious relationship with a lie (over the phone) that I needed space for a little while (not that I’d met someone new), leaving a roommate and an entire network of friends (someday I’ll tell you how I managed to actually move all my belongings out without ever telling her I was going), leaving jobs, leaving friends…heck, I’ve even run from hairdressers.
The problem with ending things as a runner is two-fold. First, the lure of running is strong. In the moment, it seems SO easy: no messy conversations, no difficult departures, no hurt feelings to deal with. The temporary ease that running offers always beckons me. As a reforming people-pleaser, I’ll be honest, it’s always the first thought that pops into my head.
The second problem with running is the aftermath. As it turns out, we human beings really do need some closure and damn if running doesn’t make that hard. While we may desire desperately to get out of the difficulties mentioned above, we pay for the ease of our departure over a lifetime. How?
We have to hide.
When you run from someone or something, you’re making the decision to never see them again. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. One of my best friends and I once agreed that when you break up with someone, they need to literally fall off the face of the earth. And that’s the price of running; skulking around in the dark, avoiding situations, people, or shopping malls where you might run into the person that you’ve left. Listen, I know that being left by a runner can be a completely shocking and painful event. But the thing is, when you’re left by a runner, after a time, you move on. You heal. Runners on the other hand, well, we carry around a giant bag of guilt, what-if’s, and self-loathing for the rest of our lives. That relationship I ended on a lie so I didn’t have to see the pain in his eyes when I told him the truth is a regret I still carry. And by running, by leaving the way I did, I no longer have the right to know anything about him. I don’t get to reach back through old friends or Facebook, check in, say hi, or go to a reunion. I lost those rights when I chose to run. You can run, but you better be ready to hide.
The good news in all of this is that for the most part, I am on the other side now. I am a reformed runner. Age and my own work has showed me over and over (and over) again that those difficult conversations I so desperately don’t want to have, really have to happen. The truth really needs to be spoken. I won’t die if someone doesn’t like me for it.
This is freedom.
The opposite of running.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my initial instinct, my first thought, is still to run. I’m pretty sure it always will be.
The desire to write about this caught me a bit off guard. I had originally been pondering the end of the year, and the start of a new one. Runners love new starts. I think what inspired me to put this down on paper was because there was a part of me that wanted to run down the clock on 2015. It was a year of highs and also a year of huge emotional unrest. I happened to be listening to Adele’s new album as I was driving a few weeks ago. One of her lyrics stopped me dead: It matter how it ends, she crooned.
It matters how it ends.
Rather than running into 2016, I needed to assess my 2015 with honesty. I wanted to end it feeling clean and clear. That may sound like a funny way to think about ending a year. But for me, especially given my tendencies to cut and run, I wanted some time to reflect. Where had things gone well? Where had they gone badly? Where did I lose myself? Where did I find myself? Could I close the year out with gratitude and kindness? Surprisingly it took me a few weeks to really process all of this. It wasn’t a quick, simple reflection. If I was going to be in honest conversation with myself, it had to happen in waves, moments, glimpses of time. But the song played on in my head, nudging me along: It matters how it ends. A split second reminder that I shouldn’t just jump blindly into something new.
I can say that 2015 and I have made our peace. I’m learning how good that feels. I’m learning that even though it can be painful in the moment, it’s freedom in the end.
It matters how things end. It matters for you. It matters for the other people involved. This is a high-stakes game. The way it ends matters forever.
Beth Killough and Susan McCusker are the co-founders of The Circle Up Experience. They work with horses to help humans reclaim personal leadership and transform their own herds. You can read more about their work here, or find them on Facebook.