why i do this

I ran a trail race today. I’ve never run a trail race before. It’s been raining a lot in Knoxville. The trail was slick as hell.

This morning when my alarm went off before sunrise, I groaned: Why am I doing this again? After the race, when I was discussing the course with friends, I realized I would have only just gotten up if I’d slept in. This is why I do this . . .

img_3421During the run, I saw a guy wearing a shirt advertising the La Jolla Half Marathon. He was talking to a buddy about trail races in San Diego. “You from California?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Nah,” he said. “Went out there for college; just moved back.” Still running, he raised his hands to the canopy of leaves above us. “I missed this . . .” He seemed to forget me for a moment, then resurfaced. “And you? You from Cali?” “Yes, I’m from Cali—born and raised. I miss it, but I like Knoxville, too.”

Both were true.

Last weekend, I did a sprint triathlon. The scenario was the same. Why am I doing this? . . . Oh yeah, this is why I’m doing this. I commented to a friend afterward that I still find warm Tennessee mornings strange. In California it’s always cold at night and in the early morning. I miss that about home, but the warmer weather here does help during triathlons.

After another event a man said to me: “I lived in Cali for eight months, in Oakland. I never really could get used to it—didn’t understand what all the hype was about.” “Oh yeah?” I said. “Yeah. It‘s so expensive, and the traffic is awful, and . . . ” “But what about the beaches?” I pressed. “Places like Mendocino or the Bay—they’re so pretty!” “But the water is so cold!” he said.

The water is cold, I’ll give him that. But also, you find what you look for.


I have friends, so many friends, who have never left their hometown. People stay where they’re comfortable—most stay in the same place their whole lives. It’s easier to do this, certainly. I’ve moved around a lot, and moving is HARD. It’s hard to make friends in places and then leave them; it’s hard to never have roots. But after the initial adjustment period in a new town—after you no longer have to ask Siri for directions to get home, and when you’re finally making friends, and when you’re getting involved in things around town—suddenly, it makes sense. This is why I do this.

I do this to grow and to see and to experience different places in the world. I do this to push myself and to relate better to others, no matter where they’re from. I do this to better understand myself and to challenge my beliefs about the world. I do this because what I learned in Taiwan is true: There is no “better,” there is no “best.” All that exists among the world’s various regions and climates is “different,” and it is these differences that make that make our world interesting and beautiful. It is these differences that make our lives worth living.

So please, dear readers, stop fearing change. Stop taking the easy route. Move if you feel stagnant. Move even if you don’t feel stagnant. Growth cannot happen without change. Happiness cannot happen without growth.

Trust me. After almost a year, I can finally say: Knoxville is starting to feel a little bit like “home.”






25 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve lived in the same place since I was one. So 52 years now. I’ve talked for years about how much I wish I could go back and change one fundamental decision — to stay home and go to college rather than venturing out. And then law school was here and the job and I’ve been in a position that is just not easily transferrable to other locations. So, I have to wait until I retire. Which is not so far away. And I’ve thought for years how much I am ready to leave this place and looked at retirement as the opportunity to do so. But lately, I’ve come to recognize that staying here may make the most sense — for various reasons I won’t get into — but your post here reminds me of the most basic and fundamental reason I need to leave. To grow. Thank you.

    • It’s worth seeing how people live in different parts of the country and world. It really is. I would be a very different person with a much different perspective if I’d stayed in Placerville all my life, or if I hadn’t stuck it out in Asia when I went and was hit with massive culture shock for the first time… The biggest reason most people stay close to home is family. I miss my family tons. But somehow I’ve always been just independent enough to make it work, and modern technology certainly helps. I think when you look back you’ more likely to regret playing it safe than trying out someplace new. After all, you can always move back!

      • “Playing it safe” defines my life up to this point. It’s why I really, really want to go for that change when I retire. And it’s not going to be something as big as moving to another country. Just somewhere else.

  2. Congratulations on being in 1st place! Great achievement. I can only agree regarding moving and living in different places, though I’m settled to living in the North East now, I’ve lived in various counties in England, and loved the experiences I’ve had along the way and the people I’ve met.

    • Thank you, Fraggle! It’s fun to be recognized for my athletic efforts, even though I know I’m really not *that* good. These were both pretty small races.

      Glad to know you agree about the benefits of travel and living in more than one place. It’s hard to explain this to people who have stayed in the same place their whole lives. That said, sometimes I *do* feel I’ve chosen the harder path. It’s not easy to start over as a single person in a new city in your 30s.

  3. Congrats on the first place finishes in your age bracket, Jess. It is quite a feat. Also lovely to hear that Tennessee is starting to feel like home. You are so right in that moving is hard. No matter how many times you do it, it never gets easier even if you want to move. I think as humans we all just want some comfort, some familiarity to know that we’re okay and sometimes with moving, that is not the case – there’s always uncertainty in the air. I think so long as we stick to someone we know that we love, be it fitness or writing or hiking or reading, then a place should eventually start feeling like home, eventually :)

    • Yeah, the feeling of “home” seems to switch from day-to-day, too, at least in the early months. I still find myself talking about California and comparing it to Tennessee all the time. I did the same thing when I moved home from Asia, only then I was talking about Asia. I find it hard to connect to people who haven’t ever traveled or left their hometown. It’s like there’s this complete disconnect… And I end up feeling lost in a conversation and just wanting to retreat. I hate that.

      The wins these past couple of races have been fun. I still know I have a long way to go as an athlete, but I’m looking for balance in my life, too. I guess that means I will never go pro. ;)

  4. Congrats on the win!

    A lot of the things that I have done seemed big but really it was within my comfort zone. If for example, you were born to a circus family and lived on the trapeze, then doing stunts would seem easy. I had to recognize that I was not really growing and following an odd yet predictable path.

    Finally I feel that I am really challenging myself and it is not bad at all.

    Oh and California to me is incredible. The regions are different and sure it is cold but the experience is where it is at. It has been far to long since I have been there.

    • I think being able to recognize where we are — whether we’ve been playing it safe or really going big — is huge in itself. Many people never gain that self-awareness.

      I’m really happy for you, Steve. With this new job you sound much happier than I think I’ve ever heard. That’s great!

      And maybe you could teach me to surf in California, lol. *That* would be a challenge for me! Cheers!

  5. Awesome. Trail runs are a lot of fun, or at least they were when I was in enough shape to complete one. They always seem more laid back than a road race, and the food and beer is often better afterwards. I did a few sprint tri’s, but I never felt like I fit in with that crowd, and I don’t like having all the gear and garb. Anyway, great job.

    • Thank you! I totally agree regarding the different vibe at trail versus road races. Road races are so intense! And yes, the gear and garb required are a lot. Since moving to Knoxville I haven’t set any tough racing goals. I have other priorities right now, though I do want to pick a marathon and just go for it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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