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April 7, 2019

CITIUS Reads: ‘The Passion Paradox’ by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

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There are few things I love more than a good run, and a good book definitely tops the list.

For the past few weeks, the running community has been obsessed with “The Passion Paradox” which is “a guide to going all in, finding success, and discovering the benefits of an unbalanced life.” Written by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, two coaches and running experts who have been featured in the New York Times, Runner’s World and Outside, the book offers practical advice on how to balance your life by chasing passions in a healthy, positive way.

Y’all, I loved reading this book. Many people advocate for blindly pursuing your passions 100 percent of the time, but that advice really raises the stakes and adds unnecessary stress. In comparison, Brad and Steve offer a more measured approach: don’t quit your day job, check in with yourself and pursue your passions incrementally. The result? Finding the time to do things you love without falling victim to stress or burnout.

It can be so difficult to put the brakes on when you discover something that excites you, but it’s not always healthy to jump all in and neglect every other part of your life. Brad and Steve dig deep into the science behind that fiery sensation that accompanies passion, and they have plenty of tips for keeping it from becoming a negative element in your life.

I love the perspective offered by the book, and I’ve started to practice this in my own life — especially when it comes to running again after injury (which I talked about previously). I’m finally pain-free — yay! — but I don’t want to push it and re-injure myself. In lieu of running high mileage these past few months, I’ve spent more time nurturing relationships at school and exploring other hobbies, both of which have been really important to me. Instead of jumping back into training, risking injury and blowing off my friends, I’m pacing myself. It can be tough to not focus totally on running in my free time, but in the long run I know I’m building a strong foundation to stay healthy while making space for multiple things that make me happy.

Others have enjoyed the book, too — it made Shalane Flanagan’s reading list, and Alexi Pappas and Kyle Merber are discussing on their next episode of the Book Club Track Club podcast. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend picking up a copy and applying it to your passions, whether running or otherwise.

I also had the honor of chatting with Steve about his background as an athlete and coach and about his decision to write the book.

My interview with Steve was lightly edited for length and clarity.

He’s coached some of the world’s top distance runners all the way up to the Olympics, and he currently coaches the University of Houston’s track and field team.

  1. He was, like, pretty good in high school. I ran really fast in high school and was a 4:01-miler. After college, I coached with the Oregon Project for a bit, and soon after I moved to Houston to continue coaching at the collegiate and post-collegiate levels.
  2. Writing was originally just a hobby, until it turned into more. Writing was a side-hustle I never thought I’d do seriously. About a decade ago, I dabbled in writing a blog, which led to a column in The Running Times at Runner’s World. Eventually I realized this writing thing was pretty cool, and I I wanted to start writing a book.
  3. The Passion Paradox was in the works before his first book with Brad was finished. Brad and I were finishing up Peak Performance, and we were waiting on some edits to come back from our editor. We asked ourselves, “What should we do? Go on vacation?” and immediately wondered why we couldn’t just be content with our accomplishments, chill out and have some fun. Why do we have this intrinsic desire to push? And the answer became The Passion Paradox.
  4. He’s a fan of a good half marathon. It’s my favorite race distance. It’s perfect because it’s hard enough to where you have to work, but not so hard that you’re going to bonk out and hit a wall.
  5. If he coaches you … watch out. My favorite workout is a two-man four by eight. So two people run two 800s, relay style. It hurts a lot because you’re basically going all out for an 800, twice, and the only rest you get is how long it takes your partner to go all out for their 800.
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