The Trap of Sacrifice

Photo by Vlad Chețan from Pexels

Read on Medium.

Today, I decided on a run, as it happens weekly in this lockdown.

The day wasn’t a good fit. Problems and everything made it not the best day. That’s a transitioning period, with nothing that goes right. Not much different from the rest of my life, actually, but this time is bold, highlighted, and underlined. Anyway, the sun was there, I wouldn’t have the occasion tomorrow, so I decided to go.

Running is exhausting for me, so I said to myself: “that’s your half an hour of sacrifice, then you’ll be back at your work.”

The run and everything around it is much more than half an hour, but the core duration when I feel like I’m dying is that, in my case.

When running, I repeated the recently coined mantra to myself: “That’s your half an hour of sacrifice. Don’t give up.”

Needless to say, today I gave up before my target destination. But that’s another story. Other days it goes better.

The point is that I put a particular label on that time. The run needed my commitment and effort. I labeled it “sacrifice.” Most of all, I distinguished that time from the rest, like that activity was the most significant sacrifice of today.

And that’s the problem.

The rest of my life could really use my sacrifice. I can’t say I’m doing enough. I can’t say that I’m making the hard decisions. I can’t say that I’m eating my frogs.

My body needs activity, but my life needs much more from me, today included.

So, am I labeling that half an hour “sacrifice” to feel better, to tell myself that today I’ve been productive, to distract me from the real sacrifices?

That effort was making me feel better. Like I was accomplishing something.

Truth is that making efforts doesn’t necessarily mean progressing or being useful. All that needed to be accomplished was still there. And I was using energies much needed by something else. I was feeling better while nothing was going better.

I need physical activity, and distraction for the mind. It’s not that. The run is okay. Using my energies for it had a reason and was aimed at generating different energies. The problem is using that sacrifice as a mental substitute for the real and useful sacrifices. Clear and confined effort as a surrogate of confusion and hard decisions.

The run should be there to recharge my batteries, and then using those energies where it’s needed. If the run sucks my energies and is an excuse not to do the real work on what matters, that’s lying to myself, running away from my life. It feels like progress, while my life might actually be a derailing train.

It can have the appearance of a sport or mowing the lawn. Or a project you’re pouring your life into, doomed to a dead end. Or long days at work. Or taking care of someone, because caring for somebody is noble, unless you’re doing it to escape your life. If you don’t fix your life first, the help you can give to others can be ruinous.

I’ll still welcome my runs, of course. Not to feel better because I’ve accomplished something, but to feel better because of my health, the sun, the crisp air, and that regenerating half an hour that feels like dying but it’s actually much more manageable than the real struggles. That half an hour it’s life. Lucky life.

My life doesn’t need another box to tick. But it certainly needs me.

Subscribe, to receive my private notes and occasional updates, for free.