I’m an editor by trade, so I spend a lot of time thinking about word choice.
In my professional life, the word I’ve been thinking the most about is but.
(No, not butts, but ask me again after I see Magic Mike XXL this weekend. What up, homonym joke!)
Somewhere along my career development, the word “but” started slipping into more and more of my conversations and e-mails, and I know why — because it seems like a way to soften bad news with a sympathetic acknowledgement that it’s not what they wanted to hear. “I know you needed this by today, but it’s unfortunately not going to be ready.” “This is a good start, but you need to do some more work.” “I respect you having your own style, but we wear pants in the workplace.”
(Unless you’re Channing Tatum in the aforementioned highly anticipated movie sequel, in which case, proceed.)
I had thought my use of the word was doing everyone a favor, until a colleague in a leadership training class suggested something that had never before crossed my mind: Try replacing “but” with “and” to make statements more direct and positive.
It sounded crazy. But I decided to give it a try the next time I went to write an e-mail, and sure thing, once I got over the initial hesitation, it made so much sense.
“It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, but let’s work on it some more” vs. “It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, and let’s work on it some more” is like night and day when it comes out of your boss’s mouth. I may not catch myself 100% of the time,
but and when I do, I know it’s worthwhile.
Why am I sharing this professional anecdote on my running blog, you ask? Because now that I’ve explained the power of word choice, I want to alert all my athlete friends to another word I’d like worked out of our communal fitness lexicon:
Why should “should” be banned? Let me use it in a sentence for you:
“I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.”
Also bad: “have to,” “got to,” and “man cave.” That last one has nothing to do with running; I just hate it.
That sentence — variations of which I say on a near daily basis — implies that working out is a chore. And sure, some days it feels like it, but for the most part, I train for marathons because I LIKE training for marathons. There’s nothing “should” about it.
That fact became particularly clear to me this past weekend when I ran the 2015 Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler in Central Park. This race, sponsored by amazing non-profit Achilles International, is a chance for athletes with disabilities to race alongside able-bodied athletes in a celebration of the sport. When I lined up Sunday, I was surrounded by all sorts of athletes: amputees wearing Pistorius-style racing blades, wheelchair participants, autistic teenagers, blind runners with guides. Normally as I jostle my way through a crowded field, I find myself overcome with rage as other entrants block my way, but on Sunday, I found myself overcome instead with pride watching so many different athletes of different abilities come out on a drizzling, gray morning to run.
As I logged mile after mile with these extraordinary athletes, it became increasingly clear to me that my go-to word choice is all wrong. It’s not that I’m going for a run tonight because I SHOULD. I’m going for a run tonight because I want to. More than that, I’m going for a run tonight because I can.
So next time I turn down plans for a workout, I’m going to try to get my lexicon in check. No more “I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.” Here on out, expect to hear these just-so-slightly different words out of mouth:
“I can’t hang out tonight. I get to go for a run.”
And for that, I am eternally grateful.