Let me start by saying something that will surprise no one: I LIVED for the Women’s March on Washington this weekend. It took everything in me not to hop on a plane to DC or New York and walk in solidarity with so many fearless, determined (and did I mention creative?) human beings. Nothing breathes life into me like seeing people put their beliefs into action, and this movement is a compelling example of the power of peaceful opposition. It still gives me chills.

That being said, I needed a way to feel like I could participate from California. On Saturday morning, not unlike any other day, I woke up, slipped on my leggings and bright blue sneakers and stepped outside for a run. The best thing about being on the central coast in mid-January is that the weather, though rainy this past week, stays just warm enough to help motivate me to get out of bed. I chose a path I hadn’t taken before, up a hill toward an orange grove and then around the engineering buildings on campus. The air was cool, just a bit humid, with the sunshine barely peeking through clouds that had been lingering overhead for several days. I, of course, was so taken with the landscape that I almost forgot my way home.

Anyone who knows me well is probably familiar with my love affair with running. I write about it often because it remains a source of constancy and focus for me, no matter my outside circumstances. Running is something I will always have; it is uniquely mine and an expression of the power of my physical body. Though I love it for many reasons, maybe the most important is that it makes me feel strong, both mentally and physically. And on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between running and the values this Women’s March espouses: equality, resilience and strength.

As women, we are taught from an early age to be delicate, graceful and charming. We wear dresses, curl our hair and change our last names to match our husband’s. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, I don’t think women are encouraged often enough to appreciate the fortitude present in our bodies. We are expected to be beautiful, but strong? Not always the case. I took up running because it made me feel powerful in a society where I am expected to compromise my ambitions simply because I am female. If I couldn’t out-earn the men in my life, I knew without a doubt I could outrun them.

What if my method of speaking up, of expressing my frustration with political leadership that does not protect my interests, starts with putting on a pair of shoes? What if my singular act of resistance could be as simple as placing one foot in front of another on the ground?

I run because I am a woman, because I am courageous and purposeful and strong. I run because I live in a world that might have me choose between raising a family and working in an office, then immediately offer criticism about the path I designate for myself. I run because I am taught to be wary, to keep an eye out for predators, to present myself in a certain way because although I should strive to be desirable, I could also be asking for unwanted attention.

I run because I refuse to let society dictate my worth. My hope is that the Women’s March inspires many to speak up for what they value, and I know for certain it makes me feel proud to be part of this democracy. At times when the political climate feels more divided than ever, it is refreshing to watch a showing of such solidarity, spirit and support.

As for me, I will continue to practice this one thing I know best… to run.

foreword (n) – a short introductory essay preceding the text of a book / forward (adv) – movement onward so as to make progress

I am an expert at looking like an expert. (without really being one at all)

Can I get an ‘amen’ from all my fiercely motivated perfectionists out there? We work so hard to tie life up in a neat little bow when the reality sometimes looks more like the aftermath of a tornado. I cannot tell you the number of times I have set an unrealistic prediction for myself with full intention of accomplishing it, even though the likelihood of it going according to plan is nothing short of impossible. I’m sure my fellow idealists will agree that this go-getter mentality gets us places, but it comes at the expense of our personal well-being if we aren’t careful to keep it in check.

When the expectation I set for myself is perfection, the reality is that I will constantly be falling short, and as a result, always frustrated with myself. I want to enjoy the learning process that comes along with messing up, but truthfully I can’t seem to let myself catch a break. Be better, let it go, move on, I tell myself. But also, don’t let it happen in the first place.

Frankly, though, since when am I the authority on having it all together? Why can’t I find the grace to be kinder to myself? Letting go of things is painful, especially in this odd set of circumstances where I’m having trouble looking forward clearly. The people who know me deeply, who understand my competitive personality, my dry sense of humor and this unrelenting tendency to be tough on myself, are not people who share my physical space. I’m living now in this setting where I get to be independent, adventurous and constantly moving- my dream environment both personally and professionally. The chance to travel and meet new people every week is something I have to pinch myself about as a reminder that it’s real. It’s inspiring, motivating and never the same day twice, and it has fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.

However, I’m seeing more and more that without any sort of grounding, I’m left without a clear understanding of who I am and what I actually want. I, who tout my stubborn independence like a shiny badge of honor, need community more than ever. I am fraying at the seams without it. This year is humbling me in a profound way, teaching me to strike a balance between wanting to do it all and admitting my earnest need for people who know my heart.

Community brings us life in the most dynamic, enriching way. I am so, so grateful for it and ready to make it more of a priority. By the end of this year I hope to be in a new place entirely, which I know comes with a whole different set of challenges and a willingness to put myself out there and start fresh. Creating community is active. It requires vulnerability, an appreciation for loneliness and a desire to establish something brand new. It’s scary, but it’s also decidedly freeing. I love the idea of seeking out people who will make me better by loving me exactly where I am. This is my foreword, the beginning chapter of a story unfolding in greater ways than I could ever hope to plan. And you know what? That in itself is a grand exercise in letting go.