Fulfillment first, then bikes (or any other outdoor activity)

Recently, a friend gave me relationship advice. “For love to work,” she said, “it needs to come from a place of fulfillment. Needing someone because you love them is sustainable. Loving someone because you need them is not.”

Hmmm, I thought, I’m not interested in applying this to my romantic life right now. But bikes? I think this idea of fulfillment definitely applies to my relationship with bikes.

And my former relationship with rock climbing. And before that, paddling. And, from the very beginning, running.

I’ll be honest. I often used these activities—and got really good at these activities—to fill voids in my life. To identify these traps, here are two phrases I now look for:

I should do this because ___________________.

If I prove this, I will be _____________________.

“I Should” is code for Seeking Fulfillment to fill a Void

Needing outdoor recreation, or exercise, in order to be okay with yourself—to feel fulfilled—can turn activities into “I should” instead of “I want.” Motivation out of a sense of should zaps the enjoyment. It can also lead to feeling lonely, even if you are doing the activity with fun people.

Yes, it’s possible to be lonely even when you are around people. For more information on all the different kinds of loneliness, Brené Brown’s podcast with former Surgeon General, and loneliness researcher, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is a great place to start.

Seeking Fulfillment by proving yourself

A few weeks ago, while exploring a local canyon, a group of three people caught up to my group as we were putting on our wetsuits. Without even saying hello, one of them told us he’d done the canyon before, insisted his party was faster and should pass us, and then announced—completely out of context—he climbed a lot at the gym and hung out at one of the trendy bars in town.

He was annoying, to say the least, and his group ended up being much slower then our party. My friend’s advice about need and fulfillment reminds me of this guy’s behavior. He was in the canyon to fill some sort of a void, to either prove something to someone, or to make himself feel something he thought he should be feeling.

In contrast, I was with a group of well-adjusted, I’m-here-because-I-love-being-here, humans. So we shrugged off the interaction and sprawled in the sun while waiting for his group to get through the rappels.

Sometimes, you can have both: Proving it to Yourself and Also Feeling Fulfilled

The concept of proving it is not as black and white as it seems. We need some level of proving ourselves, or some form of validation, in order to to push ourselves to do great things. “Just for fun,” is not how records are broken and huge goals achieved.

The difference, I think, has to do with seeking fulfillment in an activity (I need to do this for love/validation) verses I love this activity (and myself) so I need it in my life.

I was living this paradox in the canyon. Even though I was there because I really love canyons—it’s one of the main reasons I live in the southwest—I also had something to prove. This canyon was my first form of exercise in almost two months. I was emerging from long days of chronic stress and very little sleep. The canyon, for me, was an opportunity to prove to myself I could still down climb, scramble, and explore the southwest through one of my favorite modes.

I was doing it for me, and not to prove anything to anyone else. No one I was with gave two shits whether I down climbed or rappelled. In fact, one of my friends thought skipping the rappels was a little obnoxious. My actions weren’t perfect. When I greased off a down climb and landed on top of another friend, I screamed and told him to grab my butt. That was awkward as f***. But, overall, my actions were thoughtful, coming from a place of fulfillment in the moment, and I have no regrets.

Ride to Love, Love to Ride

On my bike, I’m working on needing to ride because I love riding. I’m getting close to feeling fulfilled before I reach for my bike. I love the burn of lactic acid in my quads, the wind in my face while flowing through corners, and the long talks about life—while gasping for breath—with good friends. My next step is to start layering on some goals, and a few things to prove, for myself. Long solo expeditions motivate me the most, so I think that’s where I’ll start.

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