I ran away from home once. It’s a fuzzy memory as I must have been four, maybe five years old at the time. I was mad at my mother and probably in trouble for doing something she asked me not to do. I remember going to my room, pulling out a play suitcase and packing it with toys and my blue stuffed bunny, Jonathan. I told my mom I was leaving, she said goodbye, strangely nonchalant about the whole situation, and I went out the front door to the porch. I would show her. She’d miss me and regret everything. It was a beautiful day to run away; the sun was shining and I was free. I stepped off the porch to the sidewalk, ready to begin my new life.
And then I realized, I had no idea where I was going.
I walked up and down the street once or twice – I thought about going to live at my friend Ben’s house. But then I remembered he and his family had recently moved to Japan for the year. College students were living in his house. The Steeves were next door and their daughters often babysat us, but they’d probably just send me home after a while. I ended up returning to my house a few minutes later, stunned that my four-year-old foolproof plan was flawed.
Wanting to run away from something can be a powerful motivator. And yet, if you aren’t running toward something, it’s hard to sustain the momentum very long. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in situations that need to change- jobs, relationships, our health status, whatever it is. We make a decision that we’re walking away form those old habits, that life, those decisions. It’s a power feeling to turn away from what’s been holding you back. AND if you don’t know in a very concrete way what your goals are and what you’re running towards, you can lose steam very quickly. That’s when you fall back into old habits and life continues the same as it’s always been. Running away form something gets rid of the immediate threat, the pain, the negative energy. What it doesn’t do is replace it with a goal or a force that can motivate you once you’ve moved out of range of the old life.
Let me give you a couple of examples of the difference between the two perspectives:
You want to quit your job so….
At the staff meeting when your manager is belittling you yet again, you quit and storm out.
At night after work you clean up your resume, meet with a headhunter and spend time figuring out the perfect job for you while researching what it takes to be employed in that field.
You want to lose weight so…
You go through the house one night and throw out everything that could possibly be bad for you, eat nothing but dry salad for three days until you end up at a drive through, ordering enough food for three people which you promptly inhale in the parking lot until you feel sick and hate yourself for going off your diet.
Meeting with a nutritionist who helps you craft a food plan that you can follow and not feel panicky about by making small changes for several weeks and setting a goal to lose two pounds a week by walking through a nearby neighborhood that has particularly enjoyable gardens.
In both of these cases, running away from something in theory is a good idea. If you’re in bad work environment, it’s okay to get out. If you’re unhealthy and it’s affecting your life, it’s okay to stop eating bad foods. Sometimes in very dangerous situations, like abusive relationships, people don’t always have the luxury of figuring out what they are running toward before they run away. Running away isn’t a bad thing. It can be powerful and it can be very useful. But running away from something also creates a stress response and a stress response just isn’t sustainable. Running toward something is essentially the same action just a different perspective. It adds motivation and purpose which will always take you farther and up your chances of success.
So as you make changes in your life, remember to ask yourself, “Am I running away from something or running toward something?” The change in perspective may be the difference you need to get you to the finish line.