Neil Gaiman tells graduates how to make it

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

When OK can become Awesome

This past weekend I went on a run that changed my life. I had started running a few months ago and slowly picked up advice on technique from here and there, changing my running style after getting each new piece of information. My runs had been good. Ok. But everything changed on my last run when I found my almost perfect form. And all it took was disciplined open mindedness.

Even simple things need practice

Running is a simple movement. You put one foot in front of the other. Yet, even this simple action needs practice or else you might become a fist-pumping, shoulder-rolling mass of swaying body parts that is wasting energy and causing pain and injury. In my case, my form started with arms swinging, and soft heel strikes rolling forward into a long stride. After forming this habit, I stilled my arms and tried landing on the front of my foot, almost on the balls of the feet and pushed off with my toes. As I moved through my practice, I was without a coach, but I drove myself forward to learn.

We are creatures of habit, but we need to listen to ourselves

I had made habits of the techniques, but did not think about adjusting the technique to my body. Instead, I thought about how I could force my body into the form that came from the authorities. This is a mistake. There are experts in different fields, but if we are mindful, we are the best qualified expert on ourselves. Human beings can become acclimated to most anything, good and bad: The constant stress of war, the hardship of poverty, or the work of regular diet and exercise. In my case, my running technique had resulted in a habit that provided me an ok run, and I acclimated to that, but because of my drive to improve, I realized “ok” could become awesome.

When things are ok, it’s time for some experimentation

When I started out on my run, I had done the extremes, both soft and heavy steps on the heel, and bouncing off the balls of the feet. My practice, just like the meditative practice of a monk, made me familiar with my body. I knew how it moved and how my feet felt striking the ground. On this day, I started with heel strikes, short strides, and light steps.

As I warmed up, I moved up to the balls of the feet. Less than half mile in, I settled my feet into a mid-foot strike, my heels barely touching the ground before my foot picked up again. I placed my feet like this, step after step, getting a sense of the ground, in tune to how my feet touched the earth. At mile one, I felt the usual resistance melt away, but this time it was different.

As I placed each foot on the ground, it whipped back effortlessly, gliding over the ground rather than pushing off of it. It felt as if I wasn’t in my body running, but a spectator. My mind had been evacuated and that left only my soul. And my soul was smiling.

At mile three, I was in awe. I thought, “Now this is what awesome means. Right here.” I was unfettered. It felt like I had just started my run. It was incredible. After the fifth mile, I was nearing my car, where I’d started my run,  and I thought about the comfort of stopping. After a couple of seconds, the thought faded away. I felt no anticipation for the end. My mind and its worries had surrendered to action. I was fully present running.

Immerse yourself, and after many trials, the answer will find you

Experiences like this are important in teaching me the value of immersing yourself in a task. Practice your passion. Be willing to form habits and just as willing to break them and try new ones to hone your skill.  This will help us find a new way to do something which we never thought possible: Whether it’s for running, running a business, or creating a product. We can then realize that ok can become awesome.