Needing People is Okay…Really

A new acquaintance, who I think is slowly becoming a friend, recently confided in me that she has come to the most terrible realization: She needs people. Aiming to comfort I whispered to her, “Guess what? You’re not alone, people need YOU too!” In complete unease she looked up at me and replied in all seriousness but with a bit of humor, “Yeah I am even more uncomfortable with that part.”

My friend is not alone. Although I’ve got mountains of evidence behind me that indicate I really need people in my life, I often wrestle with a problem for days before I think to reach out for help. Funnily enough, I would say one way I measure my growth is how quickly I am able to enlist another’s assistance. It’s quite clear when I’m utilizing those around me: life is simpler. I’m able to employ solutions that I could never think of myself. I’m more efficient with my time because I’m spending less of it anxiously projecting situations and complications that have yet to arise. Alone, I struggle. With help, I thrive.

So why is my first instinct still to try to go solo?

I’ve never heard an Oscar speech where the recipient doesn’t thank at least a few friends, family, and coworkers. While undoubtedly there’s some egomaniac actor out there that thinks their success is solely a result of their own merit, anyone who has ever worked on a film knows otherwise. Similarly, even athletes in individual sports share their successes with coaches, trainers, and even their competition, whom many claim push them toward their best effort. The most accomplished among us consistently utilize other people, yet our societal voice pushes everyone to make it on their own.

Doing things on our own is forced on us from infancy. That guiding hand is slowly pulled away so we can learn to walk by ourselves. The training wheels eventually come off so we can learn to balance and ride unassisted. This makes sense; no one can deny the importance of establishing our independence. After all, if we cannot rely upon ourselves, there is very little hope of us being helpful to others, especially those who may be physically or mentally less capable. While there are undoubtedly positives to creating so much autonomy, might there be negatives as well? I can remember getting help from a teacher on a paper in high school. I wrote it, but he helped me put together some of my ideas and structure them. I remember getting the paper back and seeing a big red “A” at the top. While I was glad to get the grade, I can’t say I felt especially proud of myself. In fact, I can actually remember thinking, well of course he gave me a good grade, he helped me with it. I guess in my mind, I hadn’t earned that grade because I hadn’t done it by myself; getting help had somehow devalued my work. It’s taken years for me to understand that success does not have to be solitary.

Interestingly, I think now I see my accomplishments in which I have engaged the most help, to be my biggest triumphs. When I broaden my perspective and reach out to utilize the brilliant and compassionate people around me, I feel like a much more dynamic and well-rounded person. There is something very gratifying about being resourceful, about really using what is available to me. I don’t think I understood the value of being resourceful when I was younger; somehow I mistook it for weakness.

I was inspired to think and write about needing people not only by my conversation with my new friend, but also through my current half-marathon training. With about 3 weeks till race day, I have not yet been consistently running at the pace I think I need to be to meet my goal and run under 2:00. I’ve come home a few times from longer runs and sort of shrugged to my husband and said, “I don’t know, it’s been hard, I’m just not quite there.” Each time he has reminded me that race day will be different. “Remember,” he encouraged, “You’re going to have the crowd and all the other runners behind you, it will give you a huge boost.”

Credit: Boston Globe

I remembered what he said as I went out for my long run yesterday. Having seriously pulled a muscle after far too much beast mode in the weight room, I took two days off to recuperate. I was hoping the rest would result in a light, quick, and easy 10 mile run. While it started out that way, by the time I got into the park (almost 3 miles in) my chest was sore and I felt exhausted. I took a quick sip at the water fountain and slowly trudged out onto the 5k loop. Immediately my energy started to rise as I practically grasped on and rode the will of all the other runners around me. I got a wink and a smile from an older black lady who I’ve been seeing power-walking for a few weeks in a row. At my second water stop, I chatted quickly with a girl who was shared my love for Hoka running shoes, and who was also training for the Brooklyn Half. We wished each other luck and went on our way.

While all the great energy from all these people pulled me through the middle of my run, the end got tough again. I decided at mile 7 that I would run 9 miles instead of 10. My legs felt like lead; I could have sworn I was carrying 100 lb. weights. I threw on some DMX and plowed my way home through the busy streets, now bustling with people heading to church and grabbing groceries.

Finally, my run tracker informed me that I had reached 9 miles. I stopped and walked — passed my building and down the hill to a neighborhood market I frequent. I decided I needed to grab a few food stuffs while I was out because the way my legs were feeling, I wasn’t going to leave my sofa, much less my apartment, once I got back there. As I approached the counter with my haul, Keith, the regular checkout guy was there with another girl; he was training her on the register. As they began to ring in my items, he turned to her and exclaimed, “This girl is a beast, she trainin’ for like the world’s super duper number one marathon and shit.” She laughed, and I laughed, and I told him I wasn’t aware that there was a super duper number one marathon. He came back, “Well, I always see you doin’ work, for real.” I chuckled again, thanked him, swiped my credit card, and headed out to trudge up the hill and home.

As soon as my Hokas hit the sidewalk I began smiling from ear to ear. Why you ask? Cause at that moment, I knew if I wanted/needed to, I could run 3–4 more miles. I went into that store a little down on myself but because of that cashier, I emerged on top of the world. My hubs was spot on — people push you forward. They conjure up energy inside you that is sometimes impossible to muster solo. I used to think my running was all about being alone — with my thoughts, on my will. That worked out alright for 5ks, but now I know I need more. If I am going to get through another half in 3 weeks and my first full marathon in November, I will need to pull from every resource available to me. I’m going to need friends and awesome strangers cheering on the sidelines, and I’ll need the thousands of other runners who put in work, just like I did. I will need them all. And I will use them all. But I won’t feel weak — no way, now how. Because I know that I am the push that someone else will need to get to the finish line. No one is racing alone. We are all in this life together. We need each other —  and I promise…it really is okay.

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