Updated: Jan 21, 2020
I will not let a number define me.
In both athletics and academics, the two paramount endeavors of my life, individuals are often summed up into a very few digits. My entire collegiate journey for 3 years was aimed at achieving the four-o. Both maintaining the spotless academic resumé revered as my outstanding attribute and progressing towards a fast enough mile to validate my division one participation. The staff, the administration, teammates, friends, family - they always ask, and though they mean well, the weight builds on the soul; the weight builds on the sole.
“Going to keep that 4.0 this semester?”
“Going to try anyway,” I half-jokingly respond. -Brush it off, act like it doesn’t matter, study hard in the dark quiet hours when no one watches, cram before the tests, split hairs to acquire every extra credit point.
“How fast can you run a mile?”
“Oh low 4:10’s or so but hopefully faster his year,” I half-jokingly respond.
-Brush it off, act like you don’t care about time, run countless miles alone, do anything possible nutritionally to gain an edge, split hairs to shave every fraction of a second.
I’ve become a slave of the 4-0.
I constantly sacrifice one end for the other telling myself I’m just being weak, telling myself I can handle it all, telling myself I can do both no matter what.
Sleep? No, I have to study.
Study? No, I have to sleep.
I can do it all. I can excel at both. I can uphold the academic expectation of an upper-class, only child, parents still together, private/public educated, gifted and talented program, high SAT scores, merit scholar, honors college kid. I can earn the acknowledgment of my family, friends, and peers as a legitimate athlete pursuing something that’s more serious, more real and worthwhile than an exercise hobby.
I can, and I have, but at what cost?
I’ve cut times by a dozen seconds.
I’ve aced every test.
I’ve thrown up from study stress on too little sleep to sustain brain function.
I’ve thrown up from overtraining on too little food to sustain bodily function.
Because that’s what scholars do
Because that’s what runners do.
I wear glasses and corduroy pants to tests. Not because I like the way they look, and I do, but because I think they make me look & feel smarter on exam day.
I don’t eat lunch and don’t put dressing on my salads. Not because I’m not hungry, I am, but because I think it’ll make me look & feel faster on race day.
I can, and I have, but at what cost?
I’m healthy. I go to class. I’m running well. I have good grades.
But when no one is looking.
When I sit by myself in my room.
When I have the 2 hours a day to myself.
My mind feels numb.
My legs feel weak.
Then I look in the mirror, remind myself I’m expected to be a 4-0 kid and walk out the door.
Am I’m missing something?
I memorize facts to forget them after I test out and tell people all I care about is learning the subject.
I push miles when I hurt and check my split every mile of a recovery run and I tell people I run off of feel.
This pursuit of 4-0 might be noble
But it’s not what I want.
At least not exclusively.
Achieving those things would be nice, sure, but I cry out from behind my cage as I project the image of myself that I wish to fulfill to people in conversation. I’m lackluster, casual, introspective, and calm. I do it all out of enjoyment, intrinsic motivation, and engagement in the mundane. But c’mon, look at yourself, that’s not true. I’m anxious, I’m scared, I’m rushed, and I’m comparative. I do it all out of expectation, fear of disappointment, and exclusively goal-oriented. I want to study things because they interest me. I want to read because I want to learn. I want to write because I want to express. I want to run because I love putting one foot in front of the other. I want to stretch because I want to relax. I want to race because I want to test my limits. But my ability to slow down, be present, reflect, and pursue my passions in these ways is nonexistent. I want to be 4-0 guy, I do. I also want to be a mindful runner, a thoughtful academic, and a present human being. It seems as though I’m sacrificing the latter for the former because of externalities. If I do this, I want to do it on my terms. I want to do it from a wholistic approach with longevity and meaningfulness in mind. I want to achieve my tangible and quantifiable goals but only through intangible and qualitative practices. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking can theorize and mathematically prove what they will, but a human being cannot be defined by a calculation. I think Jesus and Dr. Seuss and Lewis got a little closer to the truth, at least to the human truth. A person is born and will die, yes. The universe is infinitely grand, yes. We are made up of matter, yes. But a person will live. The universe is comprised of a collection of beautifully intricate small things. We feel and we think and we love.
I want to be a 4-0 guy, but I want to be so much more. I refuse to be quantitative data alone when the qualitative is what attributes those numbers any meaning. Remember Keating:
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” - John Keating, Dead Poets Society