It was the writer John Updike who said, "Surprisingly few clues are ever offered to us as to what kind of people we are." Yes, I’d have to say I agree with that completely. Here I am, almost 50 years old, and I am still trying to uncover the man I am and what defines me. Like many of the people I know, my life has been one of ‘implosions’—an anything but graceful teeter tottering dance tiptoeing from crisis to crisis. For years, I equated this constantly shifting ground as a form of failure, rather than what it actually is—the revelation of character, the clarity of yet another window opening upon that which sits in my heart.
For the first 47 years of my life, I felt as though I were looking through the wrong end of a telescope—my entire world was ‘small’, and all I could see was a life defined by addiction, depression, and isolation. A few years ago, I decided to pull back the curtain on this claustrophobic world, when for the first time in my life, I found the courage to say: “My name is Jean-Paul, and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape.” And with the breath in those words, for the first time in my life, I was looking through the other end of that telescope into a vast world of possibility.
It’s no surprise that my Twitter handle is @RunjpRun because running is what I do; and in fact, it’s what I’ve always done. As a scared child, I ran away from the abuse around me, and as an adult, I used drugs and alcohol to run away from the trauma inside me. But here’s the interesting part—shortly after I got clean and sober, I actually took up the sport of running, and for many years, I simply thought it was ‘something I did’, but now I understand it as ‘something I am’.
When it comes to revealing character, there is no better chisel than living through, and with trauma. Today, I have an intimate understanding of what sits in my heart--a burning desire to help facilitate a dialogue in our communities about sexual violence and the impact it can have over a lifetime, not to mention, the ripple effect it has on all the lives it touches. Two years ago I ran the Boston Marathon twice in the same day to raise funds and awareness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. That experience taught me a lot about community, reaching out, and building your tribe.
In all the writing and speaking I do as an advocate, I’m constantly reminded of the wisdom of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Therefore, for my message to resonate, it must first be amplified, and the best way for me to do that is to build a community around me. I thought I’d share with you a few things I’ve learned in the process:
Commit to your path and others will follow.
American entrepreneur Seth Godin has said, “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” There is a tendency to be overwhelmed by logistics and details, and in the process, nothing gets down. Instead, I’ve put forth a ‘vision’ that others can rally behind--that being--Healing begins with a discussion. We can move towards this healing by having an open and honest discussion about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities.
Invite co-conspirators and cross-examiners into your tribe.
As the Victorian writer George Eliot said, "There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it." The strongest groups are those, which welcome dissenting opinions among their members. Having said that, it’s important to mention that by this, I mean ‘criticism’ and not ‘cynicism’.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Change comes when we brush up against boundaries and thresholds. I think one of the most damning and self-destructive phrases in the English language is, “We’ve always done it that way.” To enact change, you must change, and in order to change, you need to get used to the uncomfortable.
Guess what? Not everybody is going to like you.
Why is that when we get 9 compliments and only 1 critique, all we can remember is that one dissenting voice? I like what Brené Brown has to say on this topic. Unless you’re in the arena with me, putting your vulnerability out there too, then I don’t have time for your negativity. Standing up for something usually entails rattling a few cages and ruffling a few feathers.
If you’re authentic, it’s ok to fail.
But far and away the most frightening, and at times debilitating thing for me, is dealing with that internal voice that torments me with the refrain: “What if I fail?” To be perfectly honest, I’m still learning how to get comfortable with this lesson. As a high profile endurance athlete and public speaker, I’ve had my share of ‘growths’ and ‘setbacks’, but when it comes right down to it, I’d much rather be known for setting the bar too high than for setting it too low.
This fall, I will be running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times in the same day (126.6 km), not as a fundraiser, but simply to show others how resilient we are, even after the trauma of sexual violence. But most importantly, I hope that my campaign will build upon the momentum we are starting to see in the media about the prevalence of sexual violence and the need to address the countless lives that lay in its wake.
If you’d like to find out more about my Triple Toronto Marathon, share your story with me, or even to find out how you can join me for a few kilometers of my run, please contact me at this email address.