Posted by: hjelen87 | May 10, 2015

Love is Sacrifice: A Mother’s Day Post


People often think of love as a warm fuzzy feeling you get when you are around someone. However, Jesus came to earth to show us what love really is, and the Bible never speaks of how Jesus felt toward anyone. It never tells us that Jesus felt loving feelings toward us, so we should love those who make us feel good.

No, the Bible tells us “how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16) Jesus showed His love for us through sacrifice. It’s not a romantic notion, that love is sacrifice. The dictionary defines sacrifice like this: “to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” We speak of “falling in love,” as if it is something that just happens. But love requires work. Love involves giving something up for the sake of someone else.

Nothing has taught me more about how love is sacrifice than being a mother. My son is just over 2 months old and I have already sacrificed a lot so that he is well taken care of. During pregnancy, I sacrificed my body for 7 and a half months so that he could have a safe place to grow until he was ready to come out. I sacrificed the comfort of my own bed and home for 2 weeks while on bed-rest in the hospital, to keep him from getting an infection. I have sacrificed my sleep since the moment he was born, so that I help to can keep him clean, fed, and happy. I continue to sacrifice my body so that I can provide him with the nutrition of breastmilk. And I’ve sacrificed my running, which has always been such a large part of who I am.

I say these things not to let you know how great I am for sacrificing so much, or how difficult it is to be a mother. I say them because every day that I sacrifice something for my son, I learn more about what love really is. Even in those early hours of the morning, when I am frustrated because all I want to do is sleep, but my son needs me, I am loving him like Christ loved us by waking up and taking care of him.

Before I was a mother myself, I never realized how much my own mom has demonstrated Christ’s love for us in all her sacrifices throughout the years. Motherhood is wonderful, and it brings a lot of joy, but it is through giving things up for the sake of our children that we really demonstrate God’s love. So thank you, Mom, for showing me how to love like Jesus. I only hope to be able to do the same for my son.

Posted by: hjelen87 | April 15, 2014

Confessions of a Post-Collegiate Miler


When I tell people that I meet that I’m a runner, I almost always get the same question: “So you run marathons?”  And I find myself trying to explain to them that I am not that kind of runner.  I’m a miler.  Yes, that’s right, I run races that are just one mile long.  And the truth is, I think that after college, being a miler is a whole lot harder than being a marathoner.  You might be sitting there right now thinking “But a marathon is 26.2 miles long!  A mile is just…one mile!  How could that possibly be harder?”  Let me try to explain.

Almost anyone who does any kind of running will tell you that it is much easier to train for any distance if you have people to run with, particularly people who run a similar pace as you and are training for a similar distance.  And let me tell you something: almost anywhere you look, you can find a marathon training group.  Go into your local running store and ask when their marathon training group meets, and you are almost certain to get an answer.  Even many companies have groups of people who get together to train for the big local marathon.  But try to find a team that runs and trains for track meets, and you will have a lot more trouble.  You might find children’s track clubs, or professional teams for the truly elite, but the number of teams for non-professional adult mid-distance runners who want to run track meets is small.

Let’s say you can’t find a team to train with, but have decided that you’ll be alright going it on your own.  If you’re a miler, you know that training for a mile is fundamentally different than training for a marathon.  Marathons are generally run entirely on roads, or sometimes trails.  There are roads everywhere.  Most of your training can be done on the roads, trails, or sidewalks that are anywhere you are.  But to train effectively for a mile, you need a track.  If you are racing on a track, that is where you should be training.  But finding a decent track that is 400m long and open to the public is often quite difficult.

Now, say you are located in one of the cities that has a quality track club for you to train with, as I did when I lived in Washington, DC (I’m looking at you, Georgetown Running Club!).  The next challenge is finding meets that will let you run in them.  If you are a marathoner (or road racer of any distance), you’ll find races to run everywhere you turn.  Every weekend there is a race benefitting some charity or another, and you never have to travel far to find a race to run.  Not so for track meets.  Although in any given area there are probably tons of track meets going on each weekend, finding meets that allow athletes not affiliated with a school to run is challenging.  Some meets allow unattached athletes to compete only if they meet very strict standards.  Others, such as championship meets, don’t allow unattached athletes to run at all.  Finding a good number of meets to run generally requires traveling a good deal, which often means missing days of work, something that we never had to worry about in college.

And setting aside the logistical issues that post-collegiate, non-professional mid-distance runners face, there is the psychological aspect-there are these phases that I almost always go through:

1. I’m so pumped up about my training.  I’m feeling great, getting in shape.  Thinking I ended my college career on a PR.  I think I have the ability to improve on that, so I’m going to give it my all.

2. I’m at a meet, a few hours before my race is about to start.  I’m super nervous.  And then the thoughts start going through my head: Why do I do this to myself?  I just drove 3 hours by myself, paying for my own gas, had to miss a half day of work.  Now the meet is running way behind.  These college kids that I am running against are like 8 years younger than me.  They got to ride a bus here, sit under their fancy team tent and hang out with their teammates while I sit here in the sun by myself.  I should probably just move on with my life.  I feel like I am trying to extend my college years.  It’s probably time to hang up the spikes for good and just go to road racing, where all the rest of the people my age are.

3. I run the race.  It goes really well.  Post-collegiate PR!!  More thoughts running through my head: Well, I guess I can at least finish this season.  I might even be able to get within a few seconds of my college PR!  I know I can do better than how I ran today, and look how well that went!  Sure, I’m having a lot harder time recovering from these races than the girls I’m running against.  I can’t double like I used to.  But hey, they’re 8 years younger than me!  I think I’m doing quite well for my age.  Track is fun!  Why would I ever want to go back to road racing?  Track is so much better.

4. Next race.  Not a good race.  I had a million things going on at work this week and I’m planning a wedding and trying to find a new job and a place to live.  Adult things.  I didn’t get enough sleep and my nutrition was poor and I couldn’t even get 5 days of running in.  This is why most mid-distance runners who aren’t professionals end up doing longer road races.  Life gets in the way.  It’s much easier to just try new distances in which you don’t have these lofty PRs from a time when training for track was your life.  I mean, 5ks could be fun, right?  That’s only about 2 more miles than my preferred distance.  I could do that.

5. I stop trying to do track training for a bit.  I still run and do some workouts, but I decide I’ll try road races.  I run a few 5ks on the road, and they go alright.  No PRs, though.  I decide to move up to a 10k.  That was awful!  Too much pacing and not enough speed.  I wished it would have been over after the first mile.  Come to think of it, I would much rather be running a one mile race instead of a 10k anyway.  Tell me again why I decided to move up in distance?

And so it goes, back and forth, back and forth.  The mile is my race, and it just keeps pulling me back in.  And it’s not the mile that pushes me away; it’s the difficulties that come with trying to be a post-collegiate track and field athlete while maintaining a full-time job and dealing with all the other things that come with not being in college anymore.  So will I ever hang up the track spikes for good?  It’s hard to say.  Ask me today, and I will say “No, I just had a great race last weekend!  I still have a future as a miler!”  But ask me next week, and my answer might be entirely different.

Posted by: hjelen87 | June 13, 2013

Studying for the Bar Exam is Like…

BARBRI brain

Lots of people told me how terrible studying for the bar exam would be, but I’m not sure I really understood until I started doing it.  Now I often get asked by others not going through it what it’s like.  So in an effort to explain in a way that you might understand, I give you: studying for the bar exam is like…

Running a hard workout every day and never getting an easy day or a day off.

No recovery!  You take time off & you just get more behind.  If this was how I structured my running, I’d get injured.  Come to think of it, can you injure your brain from too much thinking?  Can I sue BARBRI for that?  (Answer: most likely not…assumption of risk)

*For those of you who don’t know, BARBRI is the course that I am taking to prepare for the bar exam.

Being the only one working at a coffee shop with a drive-thru during a rush.

Where do you focus your attention?  The drive-thru?  The inside customers?  Making drinks?  Did that customer just slip and fall, causing you to be liable for negligence?  Ahhh too many things to think about!!

Having PMS all the time for 3 months straight.

Overly emotional.  Crying at the drop of a hat.  Everything seems to be a bigger deal than it is.  It’s PBS: Pre-Bar-exam Syndrome

Having to study for 15 finals all at the same time and having them all count for your entire grade.

Actually, on the Virginia bar exam there are 25 different topics they expect you to have mastered.  Oh, you’re going into immigration law and will never have to use the law of wills and trusts in your life?  Doesn’t matter.  You must know it to be licensed.

Trying to tread water and then having someone throw you bricks to hold.

Just when I feel like I’m getting something, they just throw more at me and I’m drowning again!

Trying to memorize the entire Old Testament in 2 months

SO. MUCH. INFORMATION.  Have you seen all these books?


Attempting to add more music to your iPod when it is already at full capacity.

Pretty sure my brain reached capacity already.  It is now attempting to push out things that I have no use for anymore, like Britney Spears lyrics from the 90s.

Being stuck in a tunnel for hours while on the Metro during rush hour.

Sometimes you just feel trapped.  Stressed out but there isn’t a thing you can do about it, because after all, you chose to be here, didn’t you?  Even paid $3,000 for a bar prep course and another $1,000 to register for the bar (and, oh wait, what’s that?  You want me to pay another $125 to use my computer?  Sure, just throw it on top of my hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt from law school…).  There’s no turning back now.  But hey, at least there are a lot of other people going through this with you (at least, according to my Facebook there are…I’m doing the course online so I never actually see them).

Posted by: hjelen87 | April 17, 2013


Finish line

Two weekends ago, I drove all the way down to Lynchburg (about a 3 hour drive) to run a 5k in a track meet.  And instead of ending the meet with a PR time following my name in the results, which was the goal, I ended it with 3 letters that have never followed my name in any results before: DNF.  Did Not Finish.

I am the kind of person who finishes what she starts.  I’m the kind of person who will sit through a crappy movie instead of walking out because I feel like I have to finish it.  I’m the kind of person who will finish a meal even though I’m completely full so I don’t leave that little bit left on my plate.  I’m the kind of person who has never even considered dropping out of a race before.  Until I did.

So I was sitting in my car, driving the 3 long hours back home from Lynchburg, and trying to figure out this one thing: how did I get here?  How did I go from being someone who always finishes what she starts to being someone who drops out of races?  It seems like I was just going along, living my life, and all of a sudden I changed.

But as I thought about it, I started to realize that that is not what happened.  It didn’t happen suddenly at all, but instead so slowly as to be almost imperceptible.  It was small decisions.  Waking up early on a Friday morning and deciding that I would sleep in instead of go to practice, rationalizing that I could do just as good of a tempo run by myself as with my team (but knowing deep down that wasn’t true).  It was deciding not to make time for core work.  It was in the middle of a race when I just gave up – I didn’t drop out, but I stopped pushing, stopped racing because I was too tired.

All these things that didn’t seem like that big of a deal on their own, but when you add them all together…I was changing.  The more times you choose to sleep in instead of get up and run, the easier it becomes to make that decision.  And pretty soon you just get lazy all around.  That is how I got to a point in my life where it was even possible for me to make the decision to drop out of a race.

I realized something else on that long drive back home: this is the same thing that happens with sin.  It starts with a little decision – no big deal, easy enough to justify.  But then it becomes easier to make that same decision again, and then to make bigger, worse decisions.  We get lazy; we stop fighting it.  I’ve learned that self-control is a discipline, and the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.  But once you make a choice to stop practicing it, it becomes harder than it was before.  And one day you wake up and wonder “how did I get here?”  It seems like it happened overnight but in reality it’s been happening for a while, little by little.

So where do we go from that place?  Thankfully, God is forgiving and willing to help.  And you also have to learn to forgive yourself.  After that, it comes back down to decisions.  As one of my favorite lines in a Switchfoot song goes – “Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance.”  Every decision we make is a chance to get back on track.  It’s not easy, once you’ve gotten into that pattern of laziness and sin.  It will be harder at first, to make the harder decision, the right decision.

But there is redemption.  There is redemption from sin through Jesus’ death on the cross.  And for my running, there was redemption in the form of a second chance – another race just 4 days after my DNF.  This one was a road mile, and it was a couple hour drive away.  I didn’t sleep well the night before and I was stressed out from school, so I considered just not even going.  But I made the decision to go and run it.  And I made the decision to push through the whole thing.  And I’m glad I did, because I ended up winning the race and going under 5:00 for just the second time in my life.  Redemption.  Praise God.

Posted by: hjelen87 | April 8, 2013

Shared Perspectives: Tearing Down Walls


About a month ago, I went on an alternative spring break trip to the Arizona/Mexico border to see the impact of immigration issues up-close.  During the trip, we got a large variety of perspectives on things related to immigration-we talked with recently deported immigrants, spent a day with Border Patrol agents, talked with a Mexican factory manager and a Mexican union organizer, and more.  We also got to see the border wall that separates Mexico from the United States.

I was discussing my trip with others and was asked the question “do you think it’s possible for both sides to ever work together?”  And I started thinking about how the (metaphorical) wall that the different “sides” of the issue build between each other is often even stronger and thicker than the physical fence that separates Mexico from the United States.

What I saw on my trip was a lot of different people, working every day to make their lives and the lives of those around them better, doing things they believe are right and important.  But often all they see when they look at each other is “the enemy.”  We talked with immigrants who just want to make a decent living and provide for their families, or reunite with family members, many of whom are United States citizens.  We also talked with Border Patrol agents who wake up every morning determined to protect this country from legitimate threats of terrorists and drug traffickers.  And both of these perspectives are valid and important, but they can’t exist in a vacuum.  If anything is ever going to get done, we need people from both sides to come together and talk and listen!

Instead, what happens is we stand on either side of our “wall” and yell at the other side, never stopping to listen to what the other side is saying, and definitely never looking them in the face.  If you go to the border wall between Mexico and the United States, you can see through to the other side.  But these walls we build between ourselves and our opponents don’t allow for even that.  It becomes easy to dehumanize the other side when we won’t even look at them.  It becomes easy to lump all those “illegal immigrants” or “corrupt border agents” together and disregard any valid concerns they might have.

I think the way forward is to tear down these walls that we create between one another.  We need to see people on the “other side” as human, capable of love & joy, pain & beauty.  We need to listen to them, hear their concerns and their stories, and try to see things from their perspective.  Only then will we be able to come up with a solution that actually works.  So do I think it is possible for both sides to ever work together?  Yes, I do.  But what it will take is taking a good look at the walls we put up to separate ourselves from other people, and then going through the hard work of tearing them down.


*To read more about our group’s experiences at the border, check out our group Tumblr page here!

Posted by: hjelen87 | March 2, 2013



While it is very easy to find road races to run these days, track meets are still mostly limited to athletes running for schools or professionally.  However, some track meets let athletes who are unaffiliated with a school run them “unattached.”

When thinking about signing up to run a track meet recently, I started thinking about how “unattached” is a pretty good word to describe me in ways besides just my lack of a school to run for.  I will graduate from law school in May, at which point I will no longer be affiliated with a school.  I don’t have a job yet.  I am single.  People often ask me where I will go or what I will do after graduation.  And while my goal is to stay in the DC area, there is nothing stopping me from moving somewhere else if the right job came along.  I am unattached to any specific place.  In the past 8 years (since I graduated high school), I have lived in 11 different places and had 31 different roommates.  It is nothing new for me to pack up and go somewhere else.

I was reading the NAIA rules regarding unattached athletes (because that’s what I do in my free time…), and realized that most of them apply pretty well to the rest of my life as well as to my occasional competition in track meets.

1. A coach or representative of the athletics department cannot enter the athlete in the event.  This past summer, the organization I was interning with asked me to go on a trip to Atlanta for a conference they were putting on.  My first instinct was to ask someone permission to leave.  But who?  My parents?  They might want to know, but I don’t need their permission.  My roommates?  Same thing goes for them.  I realized that I could just go to Atlanta for a few days without telling anyone!  I guess this is part of realizing I am an adult, but many other adults I know, who are married or in a serious relationship, would need to tell their significant other if they were taking a trip.  This is freeing, but a little scary at the same time.  There is no one person in my life who always needs to know where I am.

2. The institution or its representative cannot provide transportation to the event, from the event, or at the event.  When I think of providing transportation, I think about money (maybe because my car keeps causing me trouble and Metro keeps upping its prices).  Being unattached, I provide for myself.  So if, upon graduation, I am not able to find a job and can’t pay back my student loans, I have no one but myself to blame.  No one else has a responsibility to take care of me financially.  This is, occasionally, terrifying.  On the other hand, nobody else relies on me to take care of them financially.  I don’t have any other mouths to feed.  If I have no money, it is my fault, but it also only affects me.

3. The institution or its representative cannot provide meals or housing to the athlete with regard to the event.  I remember this time, back in 2007, when I was in my apartment wondering what to eat for dinner, and it hit me…if I wanted to, I could have ice cream for dinner!  Just ice cream, nothing else!  There is no one to stop me!  It was the first time since I’d moved away from home that I wasn’t on a meal plan and didn’t have a cafeteria of food to choose from.  Granted, it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have just ice cream for dinner every night, but every day, I can/have to make my own choices regarding what to eat.  Nobody else is around to cook for me or tell me to “eat my vegetables.”  This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.  On the one hand, if I want to, I can eat ice cream for dinner (if you know me, you probably know by now about my ice cream addiction)!  But, as the saying goes, with that freedom comes responsibility.  I have to cook, and it is completely on my shoulders if my health is terrible because I didn’t eat my vegetables or my [virtual] wallet is empty because I ate out every day.  Sometimes I get tired of making every decision for myself, even if it’s just what to eat every day.  But sometimes it is nice to have the freedom to make all my decisions for myself.

4. The athlete cannot wear an institutional uniform nor use the institution’s name in the event.  Go to an elementary or middle school and you will probably find at least a few girls’ notebooks with names written on them-the girls’ first names together with the last name of whatever boy they have a crush on.  I’ll be honest: when I was in middle school, I didn’t think I would still be a Jelen by the time I was 25 years old.  But, being unattached, I haven’t taken anyone else’s name.  But it turns out I really like my last name, so I am mostly okay with this.  Seriously, how many other people can say they have a beer named after them or an ad campaign based on what sounds like their name?

5. Athletes competing “unattached” are not covered by institutional athletic insurance.  May 19th is a big day for me.  It is the day I graduate from law school.  It is also my 26th birthday.  And it is the day I get kicked off my parents’ health insurance.  I don’t have a job (yet) or a husband to provide me with health insurance after this point.

I guess what I’ve come to realize is that there are positives and negatives to being “unattached.”  I’ll admit that I’m often frustrated with this status, but we always think the grass is greener on the other side.  I can see certain benefits of being free from attachments.  It’s certainly better than being attached to the wrong person/place/job/whatever.  And while I don’t have anyone or anything attaching me to a specific place, that does not mean that I am alone.  In fact, I have friends and family all over the country, and even some around the world.  And I may find in the future that this time of being unattached has prepared me for something else in a way that I can’t see right now.

Posted by: hjelen87 | February 18, 2013

Why I Love Running

Black Hills running

I often get the question from non-runners: what do you love so much about running?  And while there is definitely something to the aphorism “If you have to ask, you’ll never understand,” I am going to try to explain it anyway, at least some of it.

Most people don’t pay that much attention to the basic workings of their bodies.  Muscles move when we want them to.  We breathe, our blood pumps.  But runners pay attention to everything.  A sore hip one day could lead to an injured calf the next. Running shows me the complexity of my body, how everything is interrelated. It makes me pay more attention to what my body is trying to tell me.

Running allows me to notice and marvel at what the human body can do.  I love watching my times get faster as I get more in shape, both in workouts and in races.  I love how my resting heart rate slows as my training picks up, and I can feel my heart pumping more blood with each beat.  I love the feel of pushing my body to its limits, seeing just how fast or far it will go.  I love the feeling at the end of a race when I am completely spent, knowing that I left everything I had on the course.

One of the reasons, I think, why people get addicted to running is because you feel like there is no limit to your ability to improve.  You finish one race, and you are already thinking about how you can run faster in the next one.  When we are kids, our parents tell us that if we work hard, we can accomplish anything, but as we get older, we tend to stop believing that.  We limit ourselves, or the world limits us.  I think running makes us believe again-believe that if we work hard, we can do whatever we set our minds to.

And at the same time running shows me the complexity of the inner workings of the human body that many people take for granted, it is also refreshingly simple in a world where everything else seems so complicated.  Put one foot in front of the other.  Breathe in, breathe out.  I love early morning runs when nobody else is around and there is no other sound except the sounds of my footfalls and my breath.  Those times tend to be when I feel closest to God.  No distractions, no technology.  Just me and the road.  It allows me to process, to work out my emotions, to make decisions.

Or sometimes it allows me to not think, to listen, to shut it all out and just go.  Sometimes I think too much, and it is hard for me to shut my mind off.  But if I can just focus on moving my body forward, it is easier to forget about whatever problems I have been dwelling on.  And after the run is over, those problems just seem smaller.  I can’t really explain that one, but after a run, I just feel like I can handle life better.  I think that God speaks to everyone in different ways, and running is one of the main ways He speaks to me.

And then, of course, there is this:

Feels like flying

And who doesn’t want to know what it feels like to fly?!!

Posted by: hjelen87 | January 13, 2013

It’s All About Expectations

Hope sign

I was talking to someone the other day about a movie, and I mentioned my view that a huge part of how I feel about any movie that I see has to do with my expectation going into it.  It’s not always about just how good the movie is, it’s often more about how well it lives up to, or exceeds, my expectations.  For example, the movie Elf.  For whatever reason, I didn’t see that movie until the year after it came out.  And during that year, that movie was talked up so much.  Tons of people told me it was the best Christmas movie ever.  So I went into it thinking it was going to be one of the best movies I’d seen.  And it let me down.  It wasn’t so much that it was a bad movie.  It might have even been a great movie, but since I expected it to be the best ever, when it fell short of that, I couldn’t think about it positively anymore.  It was a disappointment.  (Seriously, though, Home Alone is far and away the best Christmas movie of all time…)

Hope is an interesting thing.  It is defined in the dictionary as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  Hope can be a great thing-it can keep you going when things are rough, because if you desire and expect them to get better, than you can push through the hard times.  However, hope can also be a dangerous thing.  People often say “don’t get your hopes up,” because it matters what we “expect and desire” to happen, not just what happens.  As Bane said in TDKR, “There can be no true despair without hope.”

I went on a few dates with this guy once who called me every day for a week and a half, and then I heard nothing at all from him the following week, and I was really bummed out.  We had basically just met and it wasn’t super serious, so why did it make me so upset when he didn’t call?  It was because he got my hopes up.  It wasn’t just that I wanted him to call.  I’ve been through plenty of times when I wanted a guy to call and he didn’t, and it didn’t upset me.  It was that I wanted and expected him to call: I hoped.  After the week and a half of him calling every day, I came to expect it.  I wasn’t upset just because he didn’t call, I was upset because reality didn’t comport with my expectations.  If he had never called, or if he’d only called once a week the whole time, then I wouldn’t have expected it.  Without expectation, there is no hope.  And without hope, there is no disappointment.

Same thing applies to racing.  If I take a few months off of training and jump in a track meet not even expecting to break 5:30 and end up running a 5:24 mile, I’ll be pretty satisfied.  But if I train really hard and expect to run sub-5:00 and instead run a 5:04, I won’t be too happy, even though clearly the ultimate result is better than the 5:24.  The way I feel about the race depends almost entirely on my expectations.

An easy solution would be to “not get your hopes up.”  Just don’t have any expectations and you won’t ever be disappointed.  There are three problems with that solution.  One is that expectations are something you can’t always control.  You can try your best not to expect something, but if circumstances and other people give you a reason, you might come to hope for something even when you are trying not to.  You can say, “I’m not really expecting to run under 5:30 for a mile,” but if you’ve trained really hard and your results in practice show you that you probably have the ability to run faster than that, then you will come to expect it, as much as you try not to.

The second problem is that, as I said before, hope can be important and necessary.  If you are going through a really hard time and you have absolutely no expectation that it will get any better, you will be pretty miserable.  If there is nothing better to move forward toward, then why keep moving?  Hope (expectation & desire) that things will improve allows you to move forward, through the hard times, so you can get past them.  In a race, if you don’t expect that you can run faster, you probably won’t push through the pain and realize your full potential.  Expectation allows you to set goals that you are able to accomplish, but that may require some discomfort to achieve.

And finally, hope actually feels pretty good for a while.  When something you desire isn’t happening and then something happens that causes you to have hope that it might, you want to cling to that hope.  The last thing you want to do is let go of the hope, even if you know it might cause you disappointment later.  As Anne of Green Gables once said, “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation.  It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset…almost pays for the thud.”  So we not only cling to the hope, but we stoke the fire and let the hope grow.

So what do we do?  I can’t say I have a great solution to this problem of hope and potential disappointment.  I personally get my hopes up altogether too much, leading to a lot of disappointment.  But hope has also gotten me through hard times and hard workouts that ended up leading to great things happening.  So I’m not going to be one to tell you “don’t get your hopes up,” because I know it’s not that easy.  I think it does help, though, to recognize how the way we feel about something is influenced by our expectations about it.  It helps to put it in perspective to try and think about the thing that happened on its own, rather than just in the context of your expectations regarding it.  Just something to think about.

Posted by: hjelen87 | December 10, 2012

On Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

Alone at Retreat

Recently, I had someone tell me, as “constructive criticism,” that I need to be better about sharing more about myself to others, particularly in a work setting.  I had only known this person for a short time, and I felt that I did not know him well enough to share more unsolicited information about myself before we had any sort of authentic relationship.  What bothered him wasn’t that I didn’t answer questions about myself when asked; it was that I didn’t just talk about myself without being asked.

This person believed that my inability to spontaneously share personal information could hamper my future career.  As is often assumed by people in the extroverted majority, he believed that being extroverted was the right way to do things, and that I should strive to change to be more like an extrovert.  Of course, he didn’t say it in that many words, or probably even realize that was what he was saying.  He simply had so little experience with or knowledge of how introverts conduct relationships that he didn’t realize that a person could be successful doing things another way than what he knew, or how extremely uncomfortable & unnatural it would be for me to try to do things his way.

As an introvert, I do open up to people and I have very good relationships.  However, it tends to take me longer to open up and share personal information with others than it takes for most extroverts.  The person who told me this was used to dealing with law students, the majority of whom, as in the general public, are extroverts.  This person felt that I should have voluntarily given more information about my life, and it baffled him that I didn’t like to talk about myself to anyone who would listen.

And this isn’t an entirely strange reaction to this part of my personality.  There have been many books written about how American culture is geared toward extroverts.  And knowing many extroverts myself, I find that they don’t quite understand me sometimes.  This is nothing against them, because usually they don’t know any better, but I find I often confuse them.  A friend of mine who is an extrovert recently told me that it took her a little while to realize that when we were together and I wasn’t talking, it didn’t mean that I was upset about something, but that I didn’t have anything to say at that moment.  And this revelation, after knowing me for just a few months, was way ahead of the curve in terms of figuring that out.

It makes no sense to most extroverts why an introvert would want to stay at home on a Saturday night and watch a movie or read a book when there is a perfectly good party or other large social gathering to attend.  Or why we would want to leave said social gathering before it has ended.  When they ask me what I’m doing some nights and I respond with “just chilling at home,” they suggest that I tag along with them at whatever event they are going to, because “chilling at home” does not sound like an enjoyable choice for how to spend a night, but rather a default when you have nothing better to do.  But for me, and other introverts, it really is what we want to do many nights, hard to believe as that may be to all the extroverts out there.

And for a while, it made me feel lame knowing that sometimes I had the desire to skip parties & stay home by myself.  And society reinforces the idea that staying at home alone in lieu of going to social gatherings is not a legitimate choice.  Think about it: kids are regularly punished by being grounded, which is “forcing” them to stay at home by themselves and miss out on social gatherings.  It makes you feel pretty weird as a kid when you want to do the thing that is seen as punishment by most.  But I started learning more about introversion and realized that it is part of who I am, not something to be changed.  Introverts are definitely in the minority, and many people will not understand us, but it is not wrong or bad to be an introvert.  Introverts bring different strengths to the table, and the world needs those strengths just as much as it needs the strengths that extroverts bring.

So to all you extroverts out there, a few tips.  First, know that I really do love other people and spending time with them, just not all the time and with lots of people at once.  Second, I appreciate being invited to hang out with you, but if I choose instead to stay home & watch a movie by myself, just know that it is not because I’m lonely or depressed, or because I don’t have anything better to do, or because I don’t want to spend time with you.  It is a choice that I have made and I will likely enjoy myself.  And finally, if I’m hanging out with you and I’m not talking, it is probably not because I’m mad at you or upset about something else (although this is occasionally the case, so learn to read my nonverbals! ;D).  It is probably just because I am deep in thought, or I just don’t have anything in particular to say right then.

*If you want to learn more about introverts & understand us better (or if you are an introvert & want to read something that will constantly make you say “oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I feel!”), I would recommend this blog, which always seems to have posts that I relate to really well.

**Also, shout out to my lovely roommate, sometimes blog post editor, and often inspiration behind my posts, Laura!  You should all check out her website here!

Posted by: hjelen87 | November 28, 2012

I was a runner before it was cool


Everyone wants to feel like they are special.  We all want to have a way to stand out from the crowd.  But what happens when that thing that used to make you stand out from the crowd is overtaken by that crowd and no longer makes you different, but rather makes you seem just like everyone else?

In college, I was part of what I thought of as a unique, special group of people: runners.  We who were on the cross country team ran in snow, cold, rain, and heat.  We ran to push the limits of our bodies.  We ran to see just how far and how fast we could go.  We competed.  Sometimes, after a particularly cold, snowy run, we would come into the dining center in our spandex pants with our hair frozen and people would look at us like we were crazy.  And we liked it.  It made us stand out.  We were proud to be called runners.

And then, the masses descended.  Suddenly, everyone was a “runner.”  The local 5k road race filled to capacity with people who wanted to claim the label we had worked so hard to have.  I could no longer say I was a runner in casual conversation without half the room telling me that they were runners, too.  It bothered me.  They were encroaching on my territory.  And in the process, they were changing the meaning of the very word I used to use to describe myself.  Now, a runner is someone who finishes a 5k road race, whether they trained or not, no matter how slow they jogged or how many walk breaks they took.

Then something even worse happened: finishing a marathon became a fad.  Now everyone runs marathons, because it’s the cool thing to do.  And now, people who have finished a marathon think that they are more of a “real runner” than I, who haven’t finished a marathon, am.  It doesn’t matter to them that I’ve broken 5 minutes in a mile, or could run a 10 miler in the time it takes them to run a 10k.  I haven’t run a marathon, so I’m not a “real runner.”

Now I feel the need to change the terms somehow.  I still want to stand out from the crowd, but calling myself a “runner” is no longer a good way to do that.  So sometimes when I talk to people, and they ask me what I like to do in my spare time, I tell them I like to race, rather than just run.  Sometimes it works and they understand the distinction.  Many times it doesn’t.  And it’s not just me who wants to differentiate themselves from the “casual runners.”  Around the time when all those “Sh*t _____ Say” videos came out, there were plenty of runner ones, but I really related to this one that I found: Sh!t Serious Runners Say.  The creator of the video added the “serious” part to set himself (and those like him) apart from all the casual runners out there.

But regardless of the terms I now have to use to accurately describe myself and the thing I spend so much time doing, I just want to state right here for the record: I was a RUNNER before it was cool.

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