On patience and pacing: Do not outlive yourself

Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. Thats what it’s for. Spend all you have before you die: do not outlive yourself. ~ George Bernard Shaw

A friend of mine posted this quote on her Facebook profile this week. Immediately I liked it and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. For the record, I am a fan of George Bernard Shaw. The Irish playwright is one of my favorite literary people ever, living or dead. Perhaps it’s the way he wrote about social issues with a sense of comedy and an ironic twist which people often missed. Perhaps it’s the way in which he triumphed the cause of women’s equality and celebrated strong women without feeling as if it would reduce his own masculinity. Perhaps it’s because I grew up a stone’s throw away from the Shaw Festival and even if I don’t actually get to see many performances of his works, feel some sort of kindred energy with the production company so close.

But back to the quote.

What does it mean to use my health? What does it mean to use it even to the point of wearing it out? An interesting topic this morning as I worked to find the balance between challenging myself on an 8K run without burning myself out for tomorrow’s interval workout. But easy does not have to mean unproductive and using my health does not mean I have to use it up in one day. There is something to be said for pacing yourself.

But how often do I use the concept of “pacing myself” as an excuse rather than a tactic? There’s a difference between patience and inertia and perhaps it’s not as subtle a distention as I’ve made it out to be. Patience isn’t just waiting around for something to happen. Patience is about deliberate action. It’s about taking what the moment offers me. It’s about trusting my heart. And then it’s about spending myself when those opportunities arise, about seizing the challenges and possibilities that life presents to me.  Sure, I could conserve energy. I could play small so that I don’t get hurt — physically or emotionally — and so that I have enough left in the tank for the next day or the next month or the next year. But if I keep saving and never spend, I will indeed outlive myself. And of all the stories I could create about my life that would be the most tragic of all.

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