I like to run. Two weeks ago, I ran the ScotiaBank full marathon, and the Sunday afer that, I ran the Niagara Falls half marathon.
About five years ago, my time began to improve rapidly when I adopted a running technique named after a 1972 United States Olympic runner named Jeff Galloway. Galloway says that if you take 30 second walk breaks every 4 or 5 minutes from the start of the race, you won’t hit the wall or slow down, like most runners do, in the second half of the race, and you’ll enjoy the run more.
It takes a lot of ego strength and self-confidence to adopt this method because you’re walking four minutes into the race, everyone is passing you, and you know that many of the other runners are thinking to themselves “this guy is never going to make it another 13 or 26 miles if he’s walking already.” But then, by the halfway point, they’re slowing down and you’re speeding up, and a big smile of satisfaction appears on your face.
What I learned from the The Galloway run-walk method is that sometimes it’s best to go slow to go fast…not just in running but in life in general and particularly as you think about Life After TanenbaumCHAT. I promise your life will be richer for it.
Let me unpack this metaphor in three ways as you consider your options after TanenbaumCHAT.
First, there’s no finish line. That’s true despite the fact that you’ve been in a race to the top for the past four years…for the past 12 years.
You’ll finish TanenbaumCHAT and race right into university. Then, you’ll race through university to get to a career. Then, you’ll embark on the career to race to the top of your field.
What you find out about 10-20 years after that is that there’s no finish line. If you take an extra year or two for university, an extra year or two for graduate school, if you take off a year, if you change your mind, it’s ok. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now. You can go slow to go fast. People change careers. They go back to school. They develop new interests. There’s no finish line, and no decision is irrevocable. You can afford to take some “walk breaks” because there’s really no finish line.
Second, like a marathon, unless you’re an elite runner, you’re not competing against anyone else but yourself. A lot of TanenbaumCHAT students think that if they take off a year somewhere after high school, they will have missed out on something. Or they’ll be behind. Well, unlike high school where you are part of a grade–G9, G10, G11, G12–there are no grades post-high school. First year students at university, for example, may be sitting in a lecture next to a third year student or even a graduate student. Universities are gradeless….as are professions. Some people take a year off. Some people unexpectedly fall in love. I got married at 23 even though I thought I wouldn’t get married till 27. The “real world” is gradeless and there’s no such thing as being behind…which means you can go slow to go fast as long as you’re doing something meaningful.
I’ve been heading up schools for 15 years. I started a school from scratch. I revitalized a dying school. And now I’m at TanenbaumCHAT. Shana Harris at Bialik has been running schools for nearly twice as long. Eric Petersiel at Leo Baeck for half as long. But we’re all colleagues and equals. And, there’s no such thing as being behind. If you enter your career a year or two before or after a friend of yours, who cares? If you arrive at Western or York or Ryerson a year after your friends, who cares? As long as you’ve been doing something worthwhile, you should never feel like you’re behind. Life is about your unique path and contribution. You will make yours; your friends will make theirs. Whether you do so before or after them, it doesn’t matter. You’re not in competition with them.
Third, you should “go slow to go fast” for another reason, and that is lest you think that you are what you do. In other words, there’s more to your identity than your career or your job. You have multiple identities now and you will have even more later. Now, you see yourself primarily as a student and see all the other people in this room in similar ways. And you spend most of your waking hours seeing yourself and your peers that way. But the truth is, it’s not good to define your life only in terms of marks and courses and how well you do in school. You are a friend. You are a member of a family and a community and a people, and those identities are just as important if not more so than your identity as a student.
That’s why many of your teachers tell you to take a gap year. They’re saying go slow to go fast. Your life and your identity will be richer if you take a year to learn or volunteer in Israel and participate in building the homeland of the Jewish people. A gap year gives you the opportunity to deepen an aspect of yourself–your Jewish self/your Israel-engaged self– that has nothing to do with your future career.
I promise you, if you go slow, and you spend a year in Israel, you’ll be ahead. You’ll be a more complete person, and when you resume your “run,” you’ll enjoy whatever you do next even more.
You might think other people are lapping you and saying to themselves “this guy will never finish the race,” but your life will be a lot richer for it. You’ll benefit. The Jewish people will benefit. Israel will benefit.
Let me end by making sure you don’t misunderstand something. I’m not saying that it’s bad to be goal-oriented. It’s good to have goals. But don’t define your goals too narrowly. Don’t think you have to follow some linear path. No marathon whether full or half whether in Toronto or anywhere else in the world follows a straight line. Take “walk breaks.” Otherwise, you’ll miss out on important, life-changing experiences. You’ll miss opportunities to learn things that really matter. You’ll neglect aspects of yourself that really matter. Don’t be afraid to go slow to go fast.
In the Niagara Falls half marathon, around the 8 mile mark, I caught up to a young woman in her 20’s who had passed me early on. She ended two minutes behind me. Around the 8 mile mark, she said to me “whatever technique you’re following is working.” Another runner made a similar comment. He had passed me in the first mile but saw me not far behind him for most of the race. I’d almost catch up, then walk and fall behind. Eventually, I passed him. When I did, he asked me “do you take walk breaks the whole race?” And the answer is yes. I am pretty consistent when it comes to the “go slow to go fast” philosophy for the whole race, and I recommend you take “walk breaks” too for long runs and for everything you do in your Life After TanenbaumCHAT.