Belonging

I just finished reading a book called "Braving The Wilderness" by Brene Brown. You should read it if you've ever struggled with loneliness like I have at times.

At the very end of the book, though, it presents a stark dichotomy between fitting in and belonging. And it occurs to me that, either because of fear, trauma, hurt, whatever, many of us - myself certainly included - look to fit in when what we really lack is belonging.

Almost every single dumb, damaging or destructive thing I've done was out of an attempt to fit in. From second grade up through my last job, every single social mistake was borne of this intense desire. Why did I care so much? Why did I need this? Well, that's what I've been working on in sessions now.

But that's the past. I see now that I thrive when I belong, like most people. Maybe it's a flaw of mine, but I can't truly excel when I lack belonging. I've found belonging at Saint Ann's, I've found it at Terrace, I've found it with Hellgate, I've always had it with New York City. At times I've felt it lacking with friends, and even with family. This is not to say they haven't loved and cared about me - I know you're reading this, dad - but that I have felt out of place at times, perhaps because I'm not as religious as some relatives, or simply because I had a different set of life experiences up in New York. My wife is much closer to her family than I am to mine, which makes me a little sad, but I'm 31, not 91, and I have decades left in which to work on that. 

The point I'm making, as I digress, is that the reason this job is going well isn't just that I'm talented or whatever, it's that my supervisors want me not to fit a mold but to, within reason, find my way to excel. Any future career path that leads to success will have to be based on this idea, and it's really good to know.

Belonging is key. Fitting in is death. That doesn't mean be weird for its own sake if it's not who you are. I sometimes do that when panicked, especially when I was a teenager, just being goofy for its own sake and not because I really wanted to be. "If I can't fit in," I said to myself, "I'll just be so weird I can't be ignored." This led to oversize blazers and fake chrome teeth and things like that. It was fun at the time, but it was all from fear.

To me, the key to life as an adult, married man with a settled and growing career is to find that authenticity, to eschew sarcasm and snark, and to find an environment and set of circumstances where that is fully embraced rather than just tolerated.

Would that everyone should be so lucky as to figure this out. And it's not easy, to find true belonging and forget about fitting in, pleasing people and living up to external pressure. But it's worth it. And I think I may have found the key to the future.

 

Here's hoping we all can.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Week #14: The end of training! Taper time

Miles: 51 (after 5 easy ones tomorrow)

Goals: Eh. My bridge streak ended this week, but it turns out that I was sick, and I've been sick all week.

I still managed to get more than 50 miles in for the last time in this cycle (though I may do it once again in late November). I didn't try to push my speed really and I got some rest.

Today I did my last long run, indeed my last time running over 20 miles by myself until sometime late next summer. I was a bit slower than two weeks ago because my hip was hurting and I was, you know, exhausted from being sick.

But it was fine. And now it's done.

And all that's left is to get strong and focus on the big day.

That's about 100 days of training. Will it be enough to return to a strong race?

We'll see.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

The Edge of Competence

There isn't anything wrong with comfort. It's nice to have. Most people don't.

If you have considerable skill, though, you are likely to be in a cycle of impostor syndrome, always believing you're not quite good enough. At least it's true for me, even though I've really been doing well at my current job.

Part of it might be that, at my last job, I certainly had challenges. It was somehow stressful and kind of monotonous, except when interacting with students, of course. It wasn't intellectually taxing, at least not the way I did it. It's not their fault, and I have nothing bad to say about them, lest you caution me about that. But it's true, as my wife (and parents, and sister, and everyone, now) says, I wasn't really challenged.

Now, there is a real intellectual challenge. I have to learn a lot of new things a lot of the time. And then still do the familiar challenge of teaching adults. I also, because of my various curiosities, find a way to use what I do to learn more about humans in general.

I came across a phrase recently, "operating at the edge of competence." It reminds me of running (of course) and threshold pace, that pace where you're pretty uncomfortable but you can keep going. Well, my goal, from this job onto the future of my career, is to find things that I can just barely reach with arms outstretched, and, as soon as I get comfortable, learn more and push harder, so that, like the Justin of a few years ago, I can get better and better. 

If possible, if you are fortunate enough to be able to choose your work and such, this is where we want to live, on this edge. Unfortunately, it's scary, and leaves us anxious from time to time. At least it does for me. The best response to that is to seek feedback and learn at all times.

We aren't impostors. We're just pushing ourselves. The key is learning where that edge is and not falling off the cliff.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Week #13: I will do well if the conditions are right

Miles: 45 (race week)

Goals? I hit my pace on the bridge for the 4th straight week, longest such streak I've had.

I completely failed at my goal in this half, ran even slower than I did in my slow January half where I was out of shape. I genuinely thought I'd do much better, but it was just really humid.

My fitness is fine, my endurance is fine, my legs are strong. I didn't puke today and I feel good. If I think of it as building towards the marathon then I basically ran 13 miles at goal marathon pace and that's fine.

And, because the two fastest people weren't there, this was my first time leading the team this year. I will likely do so in the marathon for similar reasons, but it's still cool when it happens.

I have one more half left this year, and if it's chilly by then (it should be, it's after TG!), I should actually be in the top ten (it's a much smaller race).

Next race, though, is the big guy. 4 weeks away. I'm ready. If it isn't crazy hot or humid.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Tell Young Men...

...that it's okay to be scared. That being scared doesn't mean they have failed or that they will fail. That everyone gets scared, but that the important thing is they figure out why and work from there, not to deny their real feelings.

....that it's okay to be vulnerable. That projecting stoicism at all times isn't always possible or desirable. You have to stay in control of your faculties, but admitting, at least to yourself, that you have sensitivity does not make you less of a man.

...that it's okay to be uncomfortable emotionally. Men are told that physical pain is almost righteous and necessary - and hey, in the sense of exercise, sure, maybe, to some extent - but that emotional discomfort is not something we're allowed to have. 

...that it's okay not to feel fully confident. It doesn't mean you give up. Quite the opposite. It means you figure out what is making your confidence waver and go from there.

...that it's okay to feel what you feel. It's better to feel it, and live it, and try to figure it out, than to ignore it, dismiss it, and let it overcome you at some later time. So much pain descends from people not being truly in touch with what has hurt them and then turning it around on others.

It's okay.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Five Years Ago

I don't write about baseball much here, because it's not something that's compelling to all.

But it's been five years since the Yanks won a playoff game, and I realize how different my life (and the world) was back then. We were about to watch the Romney/Obama election unfold, I was still living in my first avenue place - the place where mid-20s life clung to immaturity for far too long - and Sandy/canceled marathon was about to happen.

It was right when I realized I needed to do more, when I was starting to feel truly ashamed about not having accomplished very much, but, at the same time, thinking I might be able to rise.

And now, I have.

It was pretty much exactly five years ago this week that I made my biggest professional mistake. It was a subtle mistake, and one that took a few months to really crystallize.

I taught at that aforementioned for-profit school in Queens. The sessions were 15 weeks long, which meant that our June class lasted until about now. Our final class was the Friday before Columbus Day, and then we had a long weekend (of course, that meant I lost a day of work and pay), and then another class started. It was the same class (ie subject and level) but with different students, and I made the boneheaded decision to approach the new group the same way I had approached the previous one.

For whatever reason, the previous group had been a goofy bunch of young adults who talked constantly and were hard to corral but I got along with them. We did creative things like singing songs to practice rhythm and pronunciation. My job and career weren't ideal, but I did like that part of things.

But the next group was quieter. No worse or better at English. And I didn't take the time to step back and see who I had. I went in guns blazing, and they were taken aback.

I tried to do the same things, and they recoiled. They considered using music and poetry useless and complained. The rapport I had built before wasn't there, so the humor that arises naturally from a bond was lacking. It was a disaster, and it's actually a big reason why, though I had never been happy at that job, I became desperate to find a new job and path.

I was convinced, at the time, that I was destined to always be the underachieving member of my class, be it high school or college or grad school. The Yankees were old and injured that year, with A-Rod playing on torn up hips and Jeter breaking his ankle in the ALCS and never being good again. That was more or less the final year one could count on them just dragging themselves into the playoffs, and, though they had a dead cat bounce in 2015, they didn't get exciting again until this year.

Although, amusingly, it's now me who sometimes has tightness in my hips, the world looked very different the last time my team had a chance to make some noise in October. I am not convinced we'll go all the way this year - there are some legit superteams out there, though stranger things have happened - but they are ascendant, and, like me, a lot is expected of them because of who they are, and I feel more confident in my accomplishments than I ever expected to in October of 2012.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Week #12: Distance peaking now that it's actually fall

Miles: 61

I hit my goal on Tuesday with the bridge. I didn't go to the track Weds because I had something to do. And then this weekend, I ran a nice and easy 23.44, three loops of the park plus the distance from home to the park and back. I wasn't racing - there is no point in stressing my body like that when it's not race day - but I didn't really decline in speed at all (maybe 3 seconds per mile slower on my third lap than on my first lap), ran in the low to mid 7s the whole time in the park.

My hips felt good, my hamstrings felt good.

Truly the best I've felt on a solo long run.

Of course, the last time I felt that good on a solo long run was right before I went to Boston for the first time, but we don't have to talk about that.

I know I have my endurance back. Next week in Staten Island we'll see if, since it hopefully won't be 80 degrees, I have my speed back too.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Guy

Some people like fall because it's pumpkin time or halloween or whatever. That's fun, yeah.

Some people like fall because of leaves. Eh.

Some people like fall because it's back to school, but since I teach adults it's always the school year.

But me? It's marathon season.

Oh I have run races in other seasons (well, only one other season: spring). But spring marathons (really early spring anything) is fraught with surprise weather fluctuations and extra heat and if I can avoid it in the future I will. I do want to return to Boston and do well someday. But not for a while.

Now that, in the space of two days (what?), it dropped from endless summer to blissfully chilly, I can feel myself in the start corral, hopefully wearing gloves (but not tights), with cold onlookers bouncing up and down to stay warm instead of hot runners doing anything possible to stay cool (which was just last week!).

I found out this week that, had I actually wanted to run Boston in 2018 I would have missed it, which means I haven't technically BQ'd since Philly in 2015. I still don't plan to run in 2019, but I sure want to know that I'm still good enough to do so.

And now that it's cool, now that I'm not trying to stay upright in the sweltering heat, it's time to do my longest running weekend of the entire year, followed by one race where I hope the chill can help me tap into the reserves of skill I still have, and then one more long run and a taper that will, I hope, set me up for a return to the levels I had just two years ago.

It's real now. I have to capitalize.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Respect the Distance

Marathons are never easy. Even at my best and strongest and fastest, I still have never finished a marathon feeling perfectly relaxed (maybe the first time). They are rough on the body, but, as any of us might tell you, worth the effort.

So I'm in this facebook group for the 2017 marathon. I mostly watch it passively - I don't need any advice about running NYC at this point - but sometimes step in when I can answer practical questions (you know me, Mr. Pragmatic). Things like how big the bag they give you when you go to the expo, etc. I sure wish I had joined such a group back in 2012 (even though it was canceled) or 2013, because I knew nothing, and only really succeeded that year because I had the skill to do so, without really knowing it.

But my god, some people.

Look.

Look.

Look.

No one has an issue if your pace is relatively slow. I'm not here to rag on that. If you put in the work and your speed is 12, 13, 14 whatever per mile, that's your thing, do it. You are no less valuable than someone at my speed or faster.

But the key there is "if you put in the work." Now I'm not talking about an experienced - though slower - marathon who had an injury and, like me in the past, can't really afford to be signing up for races they don't run. I have literally only missed one race I signed up for and that was a few weeks ago when I couldn't fly back home. I could afford it now but it's still a waste of money.

I'm talking about newbies who, because they're busy, say their longest run has been - fewer than 6 weeks out now - 10 or 11 miles. 

What. No. Do not run. You will hurt yourself and it will be unpleasant.

I get that urge to run your first. I was sad when Sandy washed ours out, selfish though that might have been.

But don't try to run a full marathon without consistently building that real base. It's not easy for me, and, at times, I've run up to 70 miles a week. It's not easy for the pros and they run 140 or 150 a week at their peak.

I met someone in 2014 who said she was running the marathon. This was five days before the race, and she said she had run 6 miles at the longest, was planning to run 13 later that week, and would then declare herself "ready."

I also read about Caroline Wozniacki, who said her longest run before the marathon was something like 11 miles and then she went out and ran a BQ race.

No. You are not a world-class tennis player. 

You have the right to do what you want, but don't you want to enjoy it? I've been humbled by two warm races where I either had to stop or had to walk (though I got my medal this year), and I certainly had run more than 20 on several occasions.

I don't say anything to these people on the group who want to be reassured that they'll be able to complete the race without full training. I mean, look, it's usually not hot in November, they probably WILL complete it, painfully.

But the marathon is never easy, even for the fully trained. Doesn't matter your speed, you have to put those miles in over several months, especially if it's your first time. Don't look for reassurance that it won't be extremely difficult, because it will be.

Ideally, even if it's hard, a marathon should be a victory lap after defeating training. The hard work comes before it, repeatedly, and consistently, and then, though it surely takes hours of effort, you can put an exclamation point at the end of your sentence. You can't really put an exclamation point at the end of a sentence you didn't write.

As I get older, and stop doing dumb things like trying to run 3 marathons in 6 weeks, I realize how much I want people to truly enjoy running. It's not fun, the first time you try to really push yourself out of your comfort zone. The first time you realize you need body glide, or to eat differently the night before. And now you need new shoes, and clothes, and oh my god the race fees.

It can be unpleasant no matter how much you like it. So why make it worse?

I want people to love running, and trying to run a full marathon (or even a half) without proper training is a terrible way to get people to love the sport.

Rant over. I hope it's not too whiny. The slower runners are the ones who inspired me, so I really and truly don't care if someone finishes the race when the sun has long since set. I just want them to be happy when they do.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Week #11 (and Bronx 10 mile race report): Blech

Miles: 42 (because race)

I mean, my bridge work went well, I hit my goals. 

My track work wasn't easy but it went okay.

Today's race was awful but I think it was awful for almost everyone. So, although I like using this race for confidence, I have one more left in two weeks for that.

This next week will be my peak mileage week, with a 23 mile run next Saturday (before a wedding). I just need it to cool down, because I did well in the 5k in August, and today was just a weather fail. My legs felt great and it was just an inability to push much faster in the weather. I almost caught Steve but I threw up when I approached him, so nope.

But seriously it was bad for everyone.

Honestly, the temperature was between 75 and 80, and according to most race calculators, that's still an actual 2:56 or 2:57 marathon pace. There is nothing really wrong with me, it was just hot.

So, we move along to a week of miles more than speed, and then one more race before the big one (and two smaller ones after)

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality