Some days ago, when I went for my usual run, I sprained my ankle.
When this happened, it happened in the most idiotic way one could ever imagine. I mean, I was still warming up, just jogging, and on a paved road. This notwithstanding, I didn’t notice a rock that sat right on my way and, as a result, when I put my foot on it my ankle buckled.
Luckily I managed to keep my balance, and even tried to keep going. But a couple of painful steps immediately made it apparent to me this time the sprain was more serious than any others I had suffered in the past. So I made an about face and went back home — which was only a mile or so away.
Once at home I immersed my whole foot and ankle into a bucket filled with ice cubes and water. I kept it in there for twenty minutes. After, I took a shower and just tried to keep off my feet as much as possible.
Three days later I felt good. So, reasonably optimistic, and ignoring my wife’s objections, I decided to go for a run.
As usual, during the first couple of miles, the warming up, I felt lousy. But my ankle sent me reassuring signals. Besides, according to my smartwatch, my pace was in line with my personal best.
At first I stared at my smartwatch in disbelief. Then, after I had checked the data with some mental calculations, and found them probably sound, I told myself I had to restrain myself. I told myself I was on an exploratory run, just to test my ankle, and that in a couple of kilometers I would have done better to turn and get back home.
But as the minutes passed I felt better and better. I kept up my pace, and my ankle worked as if it hadn’t ever suffered any injury — well. Almost. So I told myself that maybe, just maybe, I could go on for just one more kilometer and see how I felt…
I told myself this kind of crap over and over again. As a result I ended up running thirteen kilometers (8 miles) with a 350 meters (1150 feet) of elevation gain at a pace only three or four seconds shy of my personal best.
Not too bad considering three days before I had been forced to hobble back home.
But perspective matters
Now. This is just a personal anecdote — and I was lucky my sprained ankle didn’t suffer any major injury. But I think it’s also a good example of how setbacks and failures, if faced with at least a grain of reasonable optimism, can’t prevent us from attaining our goals. Or, at the very least, from giving all we have to reach them.
I’m saying this because I think setbacks and failures are a bit like words in a dictionary.
I mean, in those hefty tomes (I know, I know, nowadays online dictionaries don’t take up any space and don’t weight anything either, but let me use this as a figure of speech) words have all their neat definitions, but they just sit there on the page in a crystallized form, waiting for us to come and adapt them to our own needs.
In this way, the same words with the same definitions can take on a different meaning for each of us. We can go past shared definitions of words like setbacks, failures, and pretty much every other, with the unique meaning we decide to give them.
After all, while shared definitions of words are useful to tell a story everyone can understand, when the audience you have to tell a story is yourself — you’d better forget about definitions others have chosen for you. Instead, you’d better think hard about which definitions you’re willing to accept and which you aren’t. And then reshape them.