On Fire

My blog and I are finally reconnecting after another hiatus! This year so far has had some challenges but I’ve made some very blog worthy discoveries and am hoping to get back to writing more as well as some other parts of my roots.

After I moved back out to Southern California in February, things quickly got shaken up when I ran into my first ethical situation with a job placement. As a traveler for the past 3 years, I have been very fortunate to work in overall excellent facilities with high levels of care. The position I found myself in this time challenged me to stand my ground with my morals and leave a contract in order to uphold my integrity and the standard that I set for myself as a clinician. While it was difficult to go through, I was proud with how empowered I have become, and it made me start to find my voice in how our health care system needs to change.

I left it behind me and headed back up to Northern California to a facility I’m familiar with and people I love. I channeled my fire into two huge goals that ended up aligning themselves in my life more perfectly than I could have imagined. I was 2 months away from running my first marathon and just as close to paying off my student loans, and the culmination of a whole lot of dedication and discipline.

After college, when I started my first job and finally had a professional salary, I started to look forward to the next path on my journey. And I stared at $121k in student loan debt that stared back at me with unreasonable loan interest rates that threatened years of sacrificing my freedom. I didn’t understand where to begin so I started to learn. I learned everything I could about student loans, repayment strategies, refinancing, paying off debt, and financial planning. I read in a Forbe’s article a quote by Chinese military general Sun Tzu, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first then seek to win.” It lit a fire to go to war.

What I’m thankful most for at this time is that I came across financial expert Dave Ramsey, whose common sense, “debt is dumb” attitude toward money fit so well with my own beliefs. He opened my eyes to the fact that we’re a debt-driven society conditioned to believe that debt is normal and everyone will always have payments. He was so firm that having debt is a “your house is on fire” pay it off now type of emergency. And that’s when I started to get mad. Up until then, I was going through the motions most people think it’s normal to go through; go to college, have lots of student loans, get a job, buy a house, have even more debt, and spend the rest of your working lives a slave to the lender. I felt so much anger toward this system that I made it my personal mission for the next 4 years to pay it all off as quickly as I could.

I initially lived at home, made a plan, and threw every penny I could at those loans. I kept a minimal bank account balance, only for what I needed for bills, spending, and emergencies, and dumped everything else from my paychecks into them. To me, no part this process was stifling. It was a game, almost an obsession, fueled by everything I continued to educate myself on. I refinanced two times for lower interest rates so I could see more and more of my payments eating away at my principle balance. I watched the daily interest accrual drop and drop. I charted all of my debt on the website unbury.me so I could watch the predicted timeline of when my loans would be paid in full. Fortunately for me, this as around the same time in my life that I decided to start travel PT, which allowed me to maximize my biggest wealth building tool, my income. I used Dave Ramsey’s debt avalanche method, paying my highest interest loans first until they were gone then moving on to the next. The beginning was slow, but I stayed focused, and about 3 years in, I started to see the light at the end.

That’s when the universe presented me with a proverbial (and literal) finish line. While driving up the coast of California in April 2018, I drove through the festivities of that year’s Big Sur marathon. As a college middle-distance runner, a marathon was always something in some deep crevice of my brain, and I’ve always been surrounded by runner friends that run them. But I always said I would never run one just to say I did it or just because I was a runner. I just never felt a pull. But for some reason, Big Sur marathon lit the spark, and over the next few months I couldn’t get it out of my head. It felt like one of those life decisions you never really felt was yours to make- it just happens. Lucky for me, I have the kinds of friends I can count on to be down for any crazy thing I want to do.

At that point, I had no idea that the very day I’d be driving down to the marathon, I’d also be putting my last debt payment in the mail.

I can also say that despite 15+ years as a runner, 5 of which were Division 1 college track, the marathon was a whole new beast to me, humbled me, and taught me a whole lot more about myself and about life than I was intending. My number one goal was to complete the training cycle and marathon without injury. I knew I was going to have to find and entirely different way to train than I did in college, to prevent my competitive self from racing my former college times and fitness level. I decided to use heart rate training to gradually gain a base and learn to feel my effort better. I learned how to ground myself when I ran the hills of the trails behind my house that I used to train on in high school and college. Instead of comparing myself to then, I tried to absorb the energy from those former workouts and reflect on the runner I started as and that I’ve developed to be. I learned how to let go of comparison and the stress I put on myself to be the best because I didn’t want to bring this with me into the marathon. I let myself run slow and not push. I was amazed to compare my entries from my old running logs: “I felt great today and went super fast.” “I pushed the pace today.” “Did my repeats all 10 seconds faster, oops.” Followed by, “Felt like crap today.” “Legs are heavy.” “Feeling my knee act up again.” My current posts were much more positive, hopeful, happy, and consistent. I felt fantastic in my runs all the way up until about the month before, when the mileage really started to get rough, and life stressors were beginning to affect my recovery. Thankfully I was training with my friend Dave, which took a lot of pressure off of myself. The weeks leading up to the longest runs were tough. My weekends were consumed by running and recovering. The work week was so hard to find balance of energy to keep up my workouts. I hammered a couple of long runs that I shouldn’t have and my body started to protest with a hamstring/sciatica injury.

This is where I started learning that to overcome the hard stuff, we have to look at what’s limiting within us.

As soon as I started feeling the injury, I put even more pressure on myself. I added more work to my body- using my PT brain to add more rehab, more conditioning, more soft tissue work. I criticized myself when I couldn’t fix the problem and this ignited even more stress to the fact that I had been training for five months for a race that was one month away and I couldn’t even run two miles without pain. I did everything I could to heal my body and eventually reached out to a sports medicine acupuncturist for help. She saw the stress in my body immediately and on the first session, completely rocked my world with a new perception. She told me my body was strong, flexible, and healthy, but overworked, and just needed rest. When I asked her if I could still run my 20 mile long run the next day she just looked at me, and this started a whole new journey of self-understanding, that I’m still working on.

Obviously I was being hypocritical. As a PT, I would hate myself as a patient. But what was is that wasn’t allowing myself to not run? With a lot of contemplation, I realized I couldn’t stop running because this is how I react whenever I meet with turbulence in my life. For better or for worse, I push. Paying off student loans for example, better; running my body into the ground, worse. I always need to figure out why, I have to put it on myself to fix it. I do this in every aspect of my life. I immediately went full throttle on my hip, asking it to do more and more; please heal as fast as you can so I can keep pushing you to run more. I’ve done it with personal relationships; how can I be the fixer? Every single sport I’ve played, I’ve pushed myself to be the best. I’ve been a captain and leader on every team I’ve ever played on and I’ve held myself to the highest of standards to satisfy other people, all stemming from the fear of disappointing myself.

I needed to let this all go to let myself heal.

It was also the lesson I needed to let go of the pressure on myself in this marathon and just run to enjoy it. The day of the race, my training partner Dave, and my friend Danielle from Alaska all lined up together at the start of all of our first marathons. With none of us knowing what to expect, we had the comfort and comradery of each other.  We enjoyed all of the excitement of the course, took in the beauty of the Pacific coastline, and the incredible energy of all the runners around us sharing it together, then carried each other through each step of the last few miles that felt like our joints were shattered glass after 26.2 miles with 2,500ft total elevation. To truly take it in instead of limiting my experience to a time goal and putting the pressure on myself to push was something I had never really done before. I let go of that. I also crossed the line with no injury.

I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life, not for what it actually feels like to cross a marathon finish line, but to consider everything it took to get there, the discipline, the demons you have to face to do it. It felt all too similar to paying off my loans. I thought there would be fireworks and balloons and celebration. But just like the marathon, crossing the finish line is just the cherry on top of the process it takes to get there- and that’s where the value and growth is.

As if the universe aligning this marathon with paying off my student loans on the same weekend wasn’t a smack in the head enough, there were countless common themes that paralleled my financial journey with that of the marathon. The fact that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey there and what you learn along the way. I think this is what limits people from doing big things. In order to do thaem, you’re forced to face the person in the mirror, and you may not like what you see that’s holding you back. It’s much easier to believe that something is impossible than to get to work making it happen or making a change, whether it’s paying off debt, running or marathon, or whatever the challenge is that life throws at you. If we can wake up to our limitations we put on ourselves, we can open doors.

In many ways, I’ve felt on fire this year. My experience standing up for my professional ethics lit a fire for my ability to self-preserve and stay grounded in my morals. I made huge moves in my financial goals, wiping out debt on my path to FIRE (financially independent retire early). I completed my first marathon, where my body felt like it was literally on fire.

All we can do is to keep learning about ourselves, fueling our fires, roasting marshmallows, eating s’mores.

Hannah

One thought on “On Fire

  1. Hannah, your strength and perseverance is admirable. Your self-reflection and growth inspiring. Your writings powerful. Congratulations on your accomplishments this year. I am so happy for you. I continue to be amazed by your “Gypsy” life and the freedom it brings. Continue to follow your dreams. A whole world of possibilities await..! Ligaya

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