By Christopher Cudworth
“You’re so determined.”
When you say that someone is “determined” it means they are focused on a goal. They mean to achieve it the best way they can. They will not let anything stop them.
You can be determined to finish. Determined to set a PR. Determined to raise money for a good cause. Determined not to let the past hold you back.
Determination is part belief, part motivation, part courage and 100% willingness to try.
Where does determination come from?
Some degree of determination is built into all of us. The world’s greatest literature focuses heavily on people trying to determine their own fates. Some succeed. Some fail.
One thinks of Captain Ahab chasing the White Whale. What a determined fellow Ahab really was. His determination consumed him to the point where he died lashed to the back of his prey. So you can be determined to a fault.
Then there’s the peripatetic Don Quixote wandering the countryside jousting at windmills. Who knows what his determination was really all about? An imagined reality where things were better?
In the book Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving the lead character is told by his wrestling coach to “Get obsessed and stay obsessed.” That is the heart of determination in a nutshell. To be determined is to prevent distraction from guiding you away from your course and objective.
In the moment
I recall a moment in a high school cross country meet when I had a lead in the first mile. The course was marked with a white line that turned a corner and headed straight into a cattail marsh. There was a flag indicating “go straight” on one side of the marsh and another flag 30 yards beyond. With no one there to indicate otherwise, I followed directions and ran right through the wetlands. As it turned out, the course designers actually wanted to make things interesting for the runners. But there was no course tour that day.
I was determined to win that day, and did. It would have been easy to stop, wonder aloud whether what I saw ahead was too weird to believe. But instead I ran right through. Given no other alternatives, determination can get you through all sorts of obstacles in life.
The business of determination
In running and riding as in business and other endeavors, being determined can make the difference between having a chance at success and not being in the hunt at all. But even that type of determination can get a bit raw.
We must suppose that people who earn tons of money in business and turn to blood sports like big game hunting simply need more stimulating outlets for the determination that made them wealthy in the first place. Their determination needs an outlet.
Or if you go market hunting for passenger pigeons because there are billions of them in the world, who would think they could ever run out? Yet they did. There were hunters so determined to bag pigeons they literally wiped out the one of the most numerous birds on earth. Were those hunters determined to get every last one? Not likely. But it happened just the same. Determination can turn into a form of evil when it knows no limits.
So we need to understand that determination is both an attribute and a danger. It is truly one of the tarsnakes of human motivation. Without perspective our determination can lead us to costly extremes.
Endurance sports naturally draw determined people. Without determination it is not possible to run or ride through pain that persists and tests our will to continue. Half the battle is dealing with pain and exhaustion. Cyclists and runners alike know that it never gets easier because you can always go faster.
That’s about as frustrating a life philosophy as those great existentialists who conceived the irreversibility of time. There is no going back in time, and going forward is never easy. You must therefore be determined to course your own fate.
Determination of God
But are other factors involved. Are the metaphysical or supernatural forces of the universe real? Does the God in whom so many people believe have any control over our fates? Or better yet, can human beings realistically determine their own fates?
People once thought God determined all that. They believed that since God knows all, then our fates must be mapped out before we’re even born. That would mean we really have no choice in who we are or what we do. That’s a pretty depressing thought actually.
Is God really such a control freak? Does the devil exist to tempt us into quitting when we should be determined to persevere, to be righteous and to tarry on when the going gets tough?
Indeed, do we have free will to make our choices and thus live with the consequences? That makes more sense theologically. It doesn’t make life any easier however.
We learn much about that from our running and riding endeavors. When you sit on the wheel of the rider in front of you and it comes your turn to pull, it is often possible to find the extra strength to lead into the wind. One moment you’re struggling to hold on and the next moment you’ve got you’re head down and your eyes on the road just ahead and you are pedaling with determination and focus. On you go. When your pull is through and you slide to the back of the group a deep sense of satisfaction rolls through your mind. You did it. You held the pull. Earned respect. Led the pack.
And when running there is no greater test than the last 800 meters of a race. It is in that 800 steps that you find out how much determination you really have. For elite runners that means just over two minutes of total effort. 800 strides. So many breaths. On you go with fatigue screaming from your legs. But you finish, and stumble beyond the line to catch your breath, relieved at last to be free of that prison of pain created from your own determination.
That is the surprising power of determination. You can determine your own fate. And when you get there and look around, there is nothing quite like it.
“I did it!”
You might pray to your God for strength in victory. Or you might ask for grace and forgiveness if you fail. But in either case you need to have determination to seize the day and come to grips with where you are in life. That’s how you determine who you really are.