Drive: 1) urge or force (animals or people) to move in a specified direction, 2) of a fact or feeling) compel (someone) to act in a particular way, especially one that is considered undesirable or inappropriate.
It’s nice to wake up every morning feeling like we have a reason to live. Perhaps you are lucky enough some mornings to roll over, find a partner under the sheets and have at it. There are few things better than seriously good sex. It resolves some of our drives.
The sex drive is one of the clearest yet most confusing drives on earth. There aren’t any real rules about how it manifests in our lives. At our house, we’ve been watching flocks of mallard ducks hanging around our back yard. At least once a day a pair (or more) of male ducks will start chasing a female duck around. This is how it is with mallards. They’ll gang up on a female. It may not be right in the minds of those with monogamy as their moral foundation, but it has worked for that species for millions of years. Nature has its drives.
It has also been demonstrated that female cardinals willingly entertain additional male cardinal guests, who copulate with her in secret. This is a level of insurance against infertility in the male she’s chosen as her actual mate. The breeding process is a numbers game, plain and simple.
There is a reason for that. The cardinals that nested in a haggard bush in our side yard produced three eggs. Two of those eggs hatched, but both young were snatched by marauding blue jays who likely staked out the nest because it was so exposed. Evolution is a sorely unforgiving teacher.
Driving right and wrong
So we can sentimentalize anything (or everything) we want, but the drives that make us do things can be right and wrong at the same time. As a result, some people live in a perpetual struggle with the seemingly contradictory nature of their drives. For example, a person with deeply religious feelings can also possess a raging sex drive. They can find themselves in serious conflict between a demand for chastity (or even total abstinence) in their faith and the pure lust for human flesh that rules their biology. Toss in a dose of inherent homosexuality and the conflict between drives and the imposed ideology of a literal faith can become an issue of repression. We all know how that typically turns out.
Constructive and destructive behaviors
Instead, many of us try to channel such drives and internal conflicts into what we consider more constructive behaviors. Sports are a frequent receptacle for physically-driven people. Athletics can be a healthy outlet for the energetic appetites of people not matter what age in life they find themselves.
Yet even some of these pursuits can be vexed by ulterior motives. A friend of mine who coaches a majorly successful high school football program plainly states that the reason most boys play the game of football is to get girls. He’s unapologetic about that fact. Of course, the behavior of some athletes as they gain success crosses the line into a sense of entitlement, privilege, even into abuse. That’s when athletes lose control and engage in rape or abuse or domestic violence. The drives that make them successful as competitive athletes are difficult to separate from the drives that make them objectify all aspects of their lives.
The long run
Getting laid would not seem to be the reason that drives most endurance athletes. Given the fact that endurance sports have massively diversified the last 10 years, that is less the case than ever. In fact, it is likely that many women athletes engage in sports for the feeling of control that it gives them over their own bodies. While they may appreciate how it makes them look in the long run, the immediate, daily benefits are much more practical. With all the impositions of being a woman in this world from makeup to hair and nails and accessories, engaging in something as simple and direct as endurance sports is a genuine source of freedom. In other words, they don’t go out there to be chased around by a bunch of male ducks.
Ultimately the things that drive us are as diverse as the individual things that make us feel happy or sad, motivated to succeed or afraid to fail. These drives cross plenty of boundaries between work and life and family. There is a plenty of transfer between the lot of them. Which is why the sense of accomplishment we develop in endurance sports is healthy in terms of the confidence it gives us. So let’s go back and consider the hardline definition of the word “drive.”
What “drive” means to us
What gets us out the door to train? What makes us willingly suffer through miles of hardship? What makes us rise early, half asleep, to get on the trainer or lift those weights?
I believe it’s simple. It is our drive to feel fully alive.
Yet we must also reconcile the fact that the definition of the word “drive” includes (and concludes) with a negative connotation. 2) of a fact or feeling) compel (someone) to act in a particular way, especially one that is considered undesirable or inappropriate.
And who is the ultimate judge of what is ‘undesirable or inappropriate?” Again, that is something we often have to judge for ourselves. Sometimes that is only learned in retrospect. The lessons carried forward are what give us insight and knowledge about the nature of our drives.
If you’ve ever done one of those training binges where things just don’t stop, where you push and pile on the miles almost without thinking, then you know how drives can turn life itself inside out. I recall a day while living in Pennsylvania in which I joined a band of runners to do a twenty-miler on a Sunday morning. We ran the first seventeen easy and the last three at 5:00-mile pace. It was an insanely good workout, and I should have been satisfied with that.
Yet that afternoon I felt a tingling hum in my legs. It felt like I wanted to run a little more. So I bundled my stuff and drove over to Valley Forge park. When I got there, I met this cute girl with a darling little dog that I stopped to pet. Then I introduced myself and wound up getting the courage to ask her out. But instead of hanging around getting to know her better, I took off on that extra run that I felt I had to do. That was the Stupid Drive kicking in.
What the hell was up with that? Twenty miles was not enough that day? Well, the drives were in full force in that period of life. I was absolutely driven to improve my 10K times and nothing would stand between the workouts it took to get there. Constructive. Destructive. Yin and Yang.
That’s how it works when you’re in your twenties and prone to excesses of every kind. Plenty of my friends (and I) were driven to distraction by our hormones, for one thing. More than one close buddy admitted to whacking it five or six times a day even while we averaged 80-100 miles a week. So the source of our energies was hard to separate, pun intended. So it is important to consider that our drives can be both constructive and destructive. This confusing dichotomy is fascinatingly captured in the intense lyrics of the Beck song Sex Drive:
Can’t you hear those cavalry drums
Hijacking your equilibrium
Midnight snacks in the mausoleum
Where the pixilated doctors moan
Driving through life
I’ve experienced more than a few kinds of drive in life. Been conflicted by the demands of caregiving while failing to take care of myself. Been torn by the desire to parent well yet not try to control their lives. Been aching for time out in nature while sitting in the office trying to make a living. And been wondering what my role as an athlete is these days and whether it is a battle with fitness or with age in which I’m engaged.
In other words, the wrestling match with what drives us never ends. These are the driving questions of all our existence. The fact is that we can only answer these questions for ourselves. Surely there are people who can help, give us perspective and help us understand our drives. We’re all in this together. But in the end, everyone has their hands on the steering wheel of their own destiny, of our own drives.
Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.