Even before I moved to New York, my family and friends knew me as the fast walker. My mom was diagnosed with speed walking syndrome as well, so one could argue I got it from her. I almost ordered us “I can’t wait for natural selection to take out the slow walkers” t-shirts for mother’s day one year, but ended up going with flowers instead. Anyway, moving to NYC as a fast-paced walker proved to be both a blessing and a curse.
Let’s start with the blessing. You don’t need to live in New York City, or have even visited to know it is a fast-paced place. People are always on the go, eager to get to whatever seemingly “important” place they are going! We certainly do not have time for tourists stopping in the middle of the street to look up at buildings or for some social media influencer to be snap chatting photos or videos from their day-in-the-life vlog. I guess this is what fuels the cliché that New Yorkers are rude and unfriendly – it’s not necessarily because we are, we’ve just acclimated to a culture that is always rushing to get something done. Even if they are just running to go stand on a crowded subway platform to wait 20 minutes for the next train.
We get a bad rap.
ANYWAY, back to the blessing part. When I first arrived I was able to adapt and get all over the city rather efficiently, thanks to my speed walking ability. My first year in the city, I worked three jobs while attending graduate school. One of my jobs was on the Upper East Side, but I lived on the Upper West Side. Given that I was intimidated by the crosstown bus (later to be a favorite means of transportation) and that I had zero dollars to pay for a cab or Uber. I walked from one side of the park, to the other. Even in the rain, snow, sleet, and dead of winter, I walked it. Inappropriately dressed too, because I still thought for some reason investing in winter and snow gear was more of a suggestion than a necessity.
Again, I digress.
Now for the important point of this rant… the curse. Because I was SO efficient with my speed walking, I relied on it to get to places on time. For example, I knew it would take me 5 mins to get to the subway from my apartment – when realistically, it should have taken me at least 10. As you can guess, anyone that interfered with my fast-paced walking plans, aka the infamous slow walkers, were immediately labeled public enemy #1. I routinely ranted and raved in my own mind about the injustice of their very existence on this earth! How dare these bleeping, bleep people get in front of me like this! Who the hell do they think they are? I even had this strange way of finding a reason to blame them for other things I didn’t like. I would blame slow walkers for things like subway train delays, being late to dinner dates, and forgetting to text an important client back. One time I even blamed slow walkers for forgetting my sister’s wedding anniversary! I allowed the innocent tourists, and other, more slow moving, New Yorkers, to not only occupy the nature of my thinking, but often to destroy my mood for the rest of the day! It got to the point where I would race in front of Mr. or Mrs. Slow Walker to get to the subway platform first just so that I could stare them down, give them dirty looks, and shake my head at them in disgust when they finally strolled their way on to the subway platform.
My anger and frustration would no doubt stay with me throughout the day. If I encountered this phenomenon on my way to work, it would linger well into the work day, and then just as it may have subsided I would look for a way to bring it into the conversation. Looking back, I can’t say definitively how often I would complain about the pace of people’s footsteps, choosing to live in a city with nine million people crammed into a 13-mile stretch, but most of my colleagues were all too happy to oblige. As I prepared to head home for the night it became part of my routine to commiserate with them, complaining and swapping slow walker stories, reveling in our mutual disdain!
It just didn’t register what I was doing to myself. That is, until the day I sat in on a mindfulness lecture that Samantha Orpaz, my colleague at the time (and now MYND MVMT’s CEO & Founder) was leading. I was still new to this work back then, and to the study of the mind & body relationship, but I will never forget the lesson I learned on that particular day.
Waiting for the lecture to begin the first thing I noticed was the phrase Victim Mentality scribbled on the white board in the front of the room. She began however with a question, “how many of you get annoyed when you find yourself stuck behind a slow walker as you walk around the city?” I quickly threw my hand up, excited to have found someone who shared my contempt. YES! I thought. She gets it! I can’t wait to talk about this! She continued. “If you raised your hand, you are likely pretty stuck in what we call the Victim Mentality.” OUCH! I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Maybe I heard her incorrectly. Ashamed, I lowered my hand and looked around to see if anyone noticed. As the lecture went on, I felt a little relief realizing that Samantha’s definition of “victim” was not exactly what I had assumed. Rather then the, “oh poor me” mentality I had associated with the word victim, she was referring to something different. Something a little more insidious.
Victim, in the way she was using it meant feeling victimized by people, places, and things going on around you that you do not like. It meant feeling terrorized, emotionally held hostage, by things outside of your control. For example, getting angry and upset because the weather is bad, because you’re stuck in traffic, because your cell phone died, because of who was elected president, or yes…because of slow walkers.
Reflecting on this, reluctantly, I realize now that I had almost always allowed other people to control how I felt much of the time. Taking no responsibility for the quality or nature of my own mind, I had been operating under the false belief that in order for me to be happy everyone around me had to be, do, or say what I thought they should.
It just never dawned on me that I could choose to change my perception, or my reaction to those things. That I could just think about something else instead. It never dawned on me that passive aggressively trying to manipulate people with dirty looks, and huffing and puffing as I walked by them, was the least effective way to go about getting what I really wanted… to feel better! I realized that day that I had absolutely no control over slow walkers and tourists, or anyone else for that matter. But that I did have control over was me, and what I give my attention to!
Now, I said reluctantly because this wasn’t exactly a happily ever after tale either. It’s not so easy to give up old thought patterns and I was still plagued with the feeling of injustice I felt when periodically I did get stuck behind a slow walker. The feeling of being right, justified in my anger, was hard to let go of. In the end I focused on the practicality of it all – I really didn’t want to feel like sh*t all the time, and I didn’t want to have to wait for the circumstances to change to feel better. I decided to do all I could to just choose to feel better anyway.
What a revolutionary idea!
I find now that it’s the hardest when I know I am in the right, to give up the entitled anger. To not dwell on the unfair circumstances I see in front of me, no matter what they are. I had to make a conscious decision, a solemn oath, to do the work. By work I mean consciously change how I use my mind. This may mean not reveling in sad songs after a fight with my husband. It may mean spending 20 minutes before work listening to a guided meditation on YouTube. It may even me bringing a speaker into my shower in the morning to listen to motivational speakers. What I realized in the end was that by making a commitment to control the messages in my mind, to control the inner dialogue as much as I could, I was able to be happy anyway, despite the circumstances!
Despite my crappy boss, or that annoying song playing on the radio. Despite the amount of money I have, or don’t have in the bank, the house I live in or the car I drive, whatever the case may be… if I work to master my mood, under any conditions life can throw at me, I know I am in the driver’s seat! I have the power! No matter what happens, I call the shots!
Once I saw that I really do have the power to feel the way I want at any given moment, I finally got it that I have the power to be, do, or have anything I want too.