When You’re Too Committed to Stop
I didn’t attend church for the first time in almost 10 months the other day. The reason? I got pulled into running a half marathon at a much faster pace than I wanted to. A friend of mine who ran at an elite Division I program and who is training to break 4 minutes in the mile brought up that he was running a half marathon at about 6-minute mile pace. He wanted me to get a good workout and help a member of our running club run a goal time.
I was too polite to say no, even though I severely doubted my fitness and ability to run 13.1 miles (21km) at 6-minute mile pace. A half marathon at 6-minute pace was, once upon a time, a cakewalk. I ran my best half marathon on three hours of sleep and a massive hangover three years ago. Now, however, it is not, and once we started, I felt like I was sprinting.
It ended up being a bit over a 78 minute half marathon, but the journey of surviving (suffering through) a half marathon I was underprepared for taught me a valuable life lesson:
To get something done, become too committed to stop.
We went through our first mile in a brisk 5:49. Our second mile was in 5:50, which was quick for our goal. But I felt like I was in trouble right away. I was struggling and wheezing, barely hanging on to the backs of the four more fit runners I was with. Again, I felt like I was sprinting. We hit the next mile, and I contemplated dropping multiple times as I continuously fell behind and then caught back up to them when I felt better. It was entering disaster territory quickly in terms of my athletic performances, but by a twist of fate and the fact that we slowed down a bit, I hung on.
I didn’t really feel much better later on. I would like to say I did, but that’s simply what happens when you struggle through running a pace faster than you’ve done in a long time. However, one thing that was different was that by mile 7, I realized something.
I was more than halfway done with this half marathon. I was way too far in to stop. No matter how bad I was feeling, I was going to hang on and finish through the next 6.1 miles. I put in too much work and time not to. And I hung on with more of that resolute determination.
Again, I didn’t feel better. My body still felt terrible. I was still breathing very heavily. But I was too committed. I was too far in to stop. I helped pace our runner friend to a bit over 78 in the half marathon, running my best time in the event in nearly a year and a half.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about being too far in to stop, being too committed to something that you persist through something, even if it’s a struggle. That’s how I felt about writing about a year into writing for a publication in college — I had written about 50 articles, and although I hated it sometimes, I was too far in to stop. I had to keep going, keep working, and keep being consistent. Now, more than five years into writing consistently, I love writing, so that’s not a problem.
But the phase of being “too far in to stop” is a stepping stone more than it is a final destination. Not everything should feel like a grind where you have to grit your teeth and bear it. Life is a nuanced balance where you have your fair share of things you like to do, and your fair share of things you don’t like to do. While our culture emphasizes “finding your passion,” there are inevitably parts of your passion that you don’t like doing. A writer might hate marketing his or her work or soliciting agents. A runner might hate the travel and the expenses it takes to get to races. An English major might hate their introduction statistics class.
Of course, hate is a strong word. But the only thing I’ve come close to hating recently is my graduate program. As a special ed teacher, I’m currently working on my Master’s in special education at John’s Hopkins University, and it’s nothing wrong with the material, but I just feel like what I learn is super theoretical, and not very practical for what I do every day in the classroom. I procrastinate every possible assignment because it’s the absolute last thing I look forward to every week.
But as I submitted my assignments at the last possible minute on Sunday night, a realization dawned on me: the semester is almost over. I’ve worked really hard. And I’ve put in too much work to fail, too much work in to stop, and way too much work to not take something as serious as a graduate program seriously. And I’ve also put in too much work for there not to be value and improvement in my instruction.
I felt like I was too committed to stop last year as a teacher as well. Midway through my first year of teaching, I felt like an absolute disappointment and failure every single day. I didn’t think I deserved to be a teacher given my lack of classroom management skills and the fact that it didn’t feel like my students were learning anything— but I was too far in to stop. I made it through my first year and I feel a lot more gratitude about the job and my teaching aptitude this year.
To be clear, being “too committed to stop” should not apply to everything. If something is adversely harming your mental health, it’s time to take an inventory. And it’s okay to quit — according to Dr. Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania, quitting is an underappreciated virtue, and strengthens resilience instead of weakening it. A lot more people with dreams of being a basketball player don’t make it to the NBA than make it. Those people are not failures — they just go on to do different things.
And if a relationship or marriage isn’t working out, holding onto the “we’re too far in to stop” mentality harms people more than it helps people. Believe me, my parents held that truism in a very unhappy marriage before they got divorced much later than they should have.
The point of the mentality, however, is to take an inventory of how far you’ve come. I often see running as an analogy for life, and sometimes it’s easy to get into a mindset of obsessing over what’s left to cover and what’s left to get done. Instead, think about what’s already accomplished and having pride in that was huge for me to finish that half marathon after we crossed seven miles.
I think about the fact that the school year is over a quarter of the way over, and it’s felt like it’s gone by really fast. But time only really goes by fast in retrospect. In the moment, sometimes time goes by really freaking slow and painfully. Being a quarter of the way done means I’m too committed not to give everything I can to my students. But first, I am very, very close to Thanksgiving break, and my last couple days of work before that break are the final steps before my finish line.
Being too far in to quit means realizing a large part of what’s difficult is behind you, and the finish line is within reach. It’s almost done. It’s almost over. If you are 24 miles through a marathon, you’re usually too far in to stop unless there’s an emergency. I think that way with writing sometimes too — sometimes, if I can just put down 400 words on a piece, I’m way too invested to not take a piece to the end and see where it goes.
When you’re overwhelmed and daunted by what’s in front of you, like I have been much of late, put one foot in front of the other. There’s nothing wrong with just going through the motions — that’s what 99% of people do because life is hard enough and an uphill battle.
However, at one point, take inventory and look up. You’ve come a long way. You’ve invested and committed a lot of time and resources, for better or worse. And at some point, you’ve put in too much work and commitment not to take it to the end.
Being “too committed to stop” is just a phase, but a phase where you’re over a mountain’s peak and starting to run downhill.