Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Long Overdue Post

Well, the month of May has come and gone, and what a tough month it was.

Our family experienced injury and loss. We have done much in terms of healing. There is still much to do.

I've been meaning to blog for a while, but have not found the time nor, more importantly for someone like me, the inspiration.

This is a personal blog. If you're looking for something about medications and kids, skip down to the next post. A great story was aired on Good Morning America last week re: the dangers of stimulant medications used to treat ADHD.

This post is about running the Long Island Marathon. It was difficult, emotional, and as it turned out, a perfect reflection of my life.

I'm not sure why I'm writing about it. Who would be interested? I mean, don't most people just wonder why anyone would even want to run a Marathon? What kind of a nut am I?

But, it meant an awful lot to me. Probably far more than it should have, and that's why I'm writing. I often gain a better perspective on events once they're written down.

I've been running, on and off, for years, but never anything more than two or three miles, two to three times a week. That is, when the weather was nice, and I was feeling good. It was the convergence of two events that led to the marathon. First, I saw the movie “Run, Fat Boy, Run!” which climaxed with the main character, an out-of-shape guy who never, ever finished anything, completing a marathon on three weeks training and a sprained ankle just to prove a point to the woman he loved.

Second, a neighbor of mine started some serious running. She threw down the gauntlet when she said, “well, I see you running, and if an old guy like you can do it, so can I.” With that, we began a friendly game of oneupmanship.

I discovered, much to my surprise, that I was handling longer runs pretty easily (“longer” as in, six to eight miles), and a running friend of mine suggested we try a half-marathon together.

“What a great idea!” I thought. “And, while I'm at it, why not try a full marathon. I've got five months to train, and the Long Island Marathon is right in my backyard.”

Ah, Reflection: if I shoot at all, it's always for the stars.

As I trained, the Marathon took on more and more meaning for me. It was no longer just some run. I was putting more and more effort into the training – sacrificing days off, running in the snow and rain in the dead of winter (dreadful time to undertake this, which brings us to the next Reflection: I have really bad timing. We bought our house at the height of the market in the 1980's; we bought our tech stocks right before the bubble burst; we had Robert just when the spike in ASDs began; start a business as the recession hits; the list goes on and on.) I was getting on Tina's nerves as I began to devote more and more attention and energies to this.

Reflection: obsessing over a new project? Yeah, a little bit. It's all or nothing with me. Always has been, always will.

And, I began to need to prove something to myself. Life has been a bit rough lately – not bad in any way (God knows I am exceptionally thankful for everything in my life), but over the past several years, a lot of things have not really gone my way, despite my best efforts. I wanted to prove I could still be successful, to do something exceptionally challenging.

I thought the Marathon might be the key. It was challenging, and most importantly, its outcome was something over which I believed I had control. Or at least, the illusion of control. (We can never be fully in control of anything, can we?)

And you know what? It was really hard – much harder than I had anticipated. When I started to get into the real mileage (15+ mile runs), it wasn't at all easy, but I would get through this.

(I guess it's like a first-time pregnancy for women. Sounds like a wonderful thing to experience, but you really have no idea what you're in for.)

Then the inevitable happened. I raised the bar. I started to push myself harder and harder. There were no “easy” runs. I changed my diet, I became obsessed with the Weather Channel, I combed the Internet for training advice. And, I set myself a goal. Not only was I going to finish the Marathon, I was going to run it fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon – anything less, and I would be disappointed.

Ridiculous, I know, but – there it is again, Reflection – always with the highest expectations for myself. I can't seem to do “good enough.” Everything has to be done right. (And, maybe that explains why I often hesitate to take on a new challenge. I'll study it to death before I begin. Will I be able to do it as well as it should be done? I doubt my abilities and think about everything that could go wrong. . .)

Of course, in the days leading up to the race, I grew nervous. I should have trained more -- more miles, more days running. More practice races – longer runs. Reflection: I NEVER feel like I've done enough.

But, I simply could not allow myself to fail – again.

“Again.” When did I add that word to the sentence? Then I understood why this stupid run meant so much to me.

I was good through high school – all honors, class valedictorian. I got into my first choice college. But, then, things didn't quite go as well as I had hoped. Yes, I graduated magna cum laude, and the school was ranked number one in the country at the time, but, I didn't make any of the sports teams, and I dropped out of the honors' program. Success?

From there, I got into a prestigious law school, but not my number one choice. Success?

I got a job in Midtown Manhattan at a very good law firm, and while according to my reviews, I was a good lawyer, I discovered that I didn't love the job. And, when Robert started having problems, I put family before work, and my “career” suffered. I did not move up the ranks as others did, and soon was behind everyone in my starting class. Suffice it to say, I don't look back to my life as a lawyer as a “success.”

No wonder that when presented with the opportunity to change careers and engage in something that I found infinitely more interesting and rewarding (i.e., working with children like my son), I jumped at the opportunity. And, as always, threw myself 110% into the job. However, I worked for a boss who managed to run an effective, successful business into the ground. I lost money, and I lost time. I stuck it out for a long time – too long – waiting for it to turn around. It didn't.

I was severely disappointed. That venture was not a success.

I left and helped create a development and learning program that was even better. My new company got our program into three schools as a pilot with the promise of more funding and more schools to come. But despite great results, the funding never materialized (hell, the schools couldn't even afford to pay their own staff), and once again, circumstances seemed to conspire against me. That venture was not a success.

So, I decided to give it one last try. I would open my own center – I would do it right, do it my way.

My illusion of control.

Which brings us to today. Spark Development is in its fifth year – an accomplishment in and of itself. We have helped dozens of families, and they willingly and enthusiastically sing the praises of our program to anyone who will listen. Surely, that's the whole point of this venture – to help others who experienced the same problems, pain and obstacles that presented with children like my son.

The fact is, the program is better than ever. There has never been so much science supporting our approach. There have never been better, nor faster, results for our students.

And yet, I don't have multiple centers, Tina still needs to hold down a job at the hospital. Between the recession, the banks, and the issues many of my clientèle and would-be clientèle must face on a daily basis, this business is not making me financial secure.


And, so I heap even more significance on the outcome of the Marathon. How can my ability to run 26.2 miles have any bearing whatsoever on my sense of self-worth? I don't have an answer to that, but it did.

I ran the Marathon in 3 hours, 27 minutes, and qualified for the Boston Marathon by four minutes.

I did it. I did not fail.

And, in a moment of peace and insight, I realize that I am confusing my sense of satisfaction with an outcome with what it means to be “successful.” Hell, what is “success” anyway?

We have three healthy, beautiful, happy children. I love my family dearly, and we want for nothing. We have developed a business and a program that saved my son and dozens of other like him, I am passionate about what I do, and the business continues despite the worst of business-related circumstances.

So, maybe, just maybe, I have been “succeeding” all along.

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