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Running On Empty

Updated on December 6, 2013

Data Therapist

I recently invented a term ("inventing" being used loosely here) after I heard someone go off on how frustrated they were with losing some important information they were working on at their computer. The term is also relevant for all of us who spend far too many hours staring at either an hourglass or the spinning circle of Windows Vista. There needs to be a new type of therapy for these people where an expert on information technology (people who seldom have more to offer you than "oh well!") emotionally holds your hand and tells you things are going to be okay. Data Therapists may have a professional relationship with Forensic Therapists, who are those people who actually will take apart your computer for money in the hope of finding that lost school assignment or financial document that you hope will keep you out of jail. But they're not the same.

The Data Therapist's main job is to remind you there is life outside this box you are staring at. Interestingly, Google Chairman/CEO Eric Schmidt recently spoke at a graduation ceremony back east, telling the graduates exactly that: "Turn off your computer...and discover all that is human all around us."

So with that in mind, I decided to shift my attention to exercise, and where I do some of my best thinking is when I'm out, early in the morning, before most of the city is awake. Running.

Off the butt and into the street...

I'm not sure why I decided to be a runner when I was a kid, other than the fact I seemed to be naturally decent at it.  Here's me in high school - my coach would get on me for being too ambivalent about the sport. I would practice with the guys, and would give an average effort, but wasn't as hungry as some of the others. Our cross-country team ended up winning the sectional championship (representing 6-8 counties, I think), our top runner coming in second in the State meet. I qualified individually and had a decent performance in the northern California meet - faster than I could do it now! But I never felt connected to the winning - the extra 2%, or whatever they tell you - that it took to be the best of the best.

What makes one person passionate about winning and another ambivalent? There are literally thousands of books on winning - I've read a bunch. We are a performance-based culture, where it's presumed that striving to win is the ultimate objective. Where we look in envy at our winning neighbor and want that sense of superiority, of adulation. We want something that's . . . . missing?

(Here's where you stop, hold your chin, tip your head back and say, "Hmmm.") ;-)

Emotional malaise

Fast forward into adulthood. The excitement of completing college, getting married, having a couple of children, advancing in a career, and then landing "thump" in the middle of life. Striving. Continuously striving throughout life, and it gets us to here.

I look around me and wonder how I got here. I know I was paying attention. What did I think was supposed to happen by middle age? I can do the math; I know there's a bunch of life left. I look in the mirror and I see myself at the age I can honestly remember my own parents being. When you're young, it doesn't really register. But we remember who we are as early teens, and we remember who our parents were. And now that's me; I've switched places. And my parents have taken the place of my grandparents. And it happened so quickly.

I look around me and most of my friends have reached the same threshold. It's jarring, in a way. Marriages end. Emotional dysfunctions emerge. Friends grow apart. Physical ailments increase.

And we find ourselves faced with a choice. To face each of our struggles and challenges and find a way to squeeze meaning out of little things, things we didn't pay attention to, or took for granted. Or to capitulate to the angst, grow angry and frustrated at our circumstances, to succumb to addictions, or to withdraw into an emotional shell. One of which is a deliberate choice; the other the result of non-choosing.

Back on the streets

And so now I find myself back to running. Not pushing or striving for anything, because it no longer matters. No one's watching. I don't need to prove anything to anyone. I'm not trying to get anywhere. I run to gain presence of mind; it is my own form of meditation.

What matters changes. The world doesn't change, we do. I recently told my daughter - referring to a discussion on the show "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" - that as you get older, you don't necessarily gain more facts, or even get more knowledge. You may even get smarter through high school years and through college, and certainly any of us can and should continue learning all through life. But what we learn the most as we age are distinctions. Little things. Changes in perspective. Observations we may have made 20 years ago, that we can now flip on their sides and see from a completely different level of understanding.


Sometimes they're subtle. Sometimes they slap you upside the face. Either way, they cause you to stop and re-evaluate how you feel and respond to certain circumstances or events. The world is and always will be as it is. It really doesn't change in significant ways. We do. And if we're smart, and receptive, and resilient, we can make gentle, steady progress on improving the world, by improving ourselves. By improving our perspective. By accepting what is. By being present and fulfilled in every moment. Things that - after a lifetime of striving - should be easy, but are not.

And that's what I now strive to do.


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    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      I know what you mean my friend. Being a year off of 60 I am experiencing that time in my life. I' keeping up my martial arts to be active and feel connected to the world.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      Thanks for checking in, Pete.

    • profile image

      pgrundy 8 years ago

      I really liked this essay. At 56 I can look back and see that so much of what I worried about when I was younger was just not important at all, and I find more and more that the capacity to turn off the chatter between my ears is incredibly healing and reassuring. I find increasingly that I NEED that, like I need air or water.

      About a year ago I just kind of came to a dead stop in my work cubicle, I mean, seriously. I found I couldn't type another number or spend another minute absorbed in what appeared to be complete and utter bullshit--not even work really, just some kind of bad drug or something. As soon as it occured to me that I COULD just stop doing that, I found I had to stop doing it--I mean I couldn't NOT stop doing it.

      I don't know if that makes any sense. Now I walk an hour every morning and often again in afternoon, work on just staying in my own skin, and nothing tragic has happened. The world is still turning and I'm still in one piece. Really good hub, thanks.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      That's a really thoughtful, insightful comment, PG. It's funny how sometimes we don't know what we don't know. When we discover it, we look at ourselves as if we've been in a fog (ie. "why didn't I see that before?")

      Your comment shows you're much in synch with my thoughts. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Steve Williams 8 years ago

      Great hub Gerg! You have such a great way of of articulating about this mid-life era feels. I had to look and look at your young pic as a runner - you look soooo much like John in that pic - it made me question whether you posted the right one!

      You may be on to something though - "Data Therapist." Perhaps a new profession - get paid to tell folks "Step AWAY from the computer."

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 8 years ago from California

      Thanks Stevie! Nope, that was me - pic was taken by our old band teacher, Mr. Mohr.

    • profile image

      geekay 7 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your insights, Gerg.

      I'm 56, and when I thought I would be settling down, instead I'm starting over. We think we have grown and matured, then we lose loved ones, our roles or our identities. Re-enter the work world. That's when we really find out where we're at.

      Maybe that's the point.

      To Pgrundy, what happened with your work situation?

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 7 years ago from California

      GK - I suppose that's just part of maturity. Getting past the notion that once we get to "there" we'll find that sense of peace/nirvana that has eluded us. In truth, there's always something else to experience and grow from. I appreciate the comment!

    • profile image

      klarawieck 5 years ago

      You will never age. Gardel, the famous tango singer, used to sing... "Young will be whoever wants to be." My father was 60 when I was born. I never met a younger man in my life. I am planning to never mature! I'll know when I'm there once I cross to the other side.

      Beautiful hub! Your enthusiasm is contagious.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 5 years ago from California

      Thanks Klara - I agree. I haven't looked at this hub in awhile - man, I'm looking tired in that "after" shot. I may need to update that! Then again, no. Same grimace as my 18 y/o pic...

      Digging Gardel. ;-)


    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Greg, I searched this hub upon reading your response to shiningirlisheyes hub, "Heart of Glass". I wanted to see what you had to say. I must say, I'm glad I did.

      Time, indeed, slips away from us. Our children become adults and we wonder how the hell that happened. We don't feel time go by. We see the gray hairs but still feel young and vibrant; firm in who we are.

      I can relate to you're going back to what you did years ago in order to think and discover, sort things out. In my late teens and early twenties, I wrote prolifically in the search of what I believed in, what I wanted for myself. It was a way to sort out my feelings and release any anxiety I was feeling.

      Now I find myself a 55 year old twice divorced woman with a 20 year old child. I've plugged along all my adult life to gain what we grown ups are supposed to achieve. I've bought a home, raised my son pretty much on my own and have become Accounting Manager for the construction company with which I'm employed.

      I find that in my stage of life, that is no longer what I want. It served me in order to serve my purpose as a mother - it helped me to provide a good life for my son.

      I am now reverting to what I did as a young adult when I needed to sort things out or express myself. I'm writing again. That is where my spirit has lain all along. Now it's time to make my dreams come true. The first being, I want to be a writer! At least I won't have to hire an accountant when the dough starts rolling in! Ha ha.

      Beautiful hub, Greg. I love the ease with which your words flow.

      I must go now. I'm going to the top of the page and hitting "follow". I look forward to what you have to offer.

    • Gerg profile image

      Gerg 4 years ago from California

      bravewarrior - you are exactly that! And you've precisely captured what I intended to convey. Things do change, in ways we didn't quite expect. I think this sense of understanding and being understood is a resonant need through so many of us, especially as we get older and feel these shifts, but perhaps don't know what to do with it. It's unfamiliar and yet familiar at the same time.

      It's affirming to me when I get feedback like this, which makes me feel like there are sympathetic souls out there, looking for deeper meaning. Best of luck to you in pursuing writing as an avenue - I'll happily follow you back!


    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      This might sound cliche, but I feel a connection. I was supposed to find you. I'm not sure why, but I'm sure it will become evident!

      Thanx for the reciprocation. I look forward to sharing with you.

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