In the middle of the first mile of a 4.5 mile run the other morning, my body was not exactly cooperating. Everything felt sluggish and slow. In fact I was trundling along at 11:00 per mile pace. Things eventually improved, but not by much. In the meantime, I was wondering to myself, “Will I always do this?”
It’s hard to look ahead ten years and know what your body and mind will give you. I do know that my competitive instincts have morphed quite a bit from those days in my early 20s when I could not stand losing to anyone. I still lost at times, but not without putting up the grandest fight that I could.
Frankly those athletic instincts have transferred over to cultural and civic debates. And sometimes I make enemies or get Unfriended for opinions that are competitive toward lazy thinking and opinions borrowed from false or overly safe spaces. I don’t think I’ll ever retire or withdraw from that type of debate. I’m not the retiring type. I’m writing a book titled Sustainable Faith that follows up on a booked titled The Genesis Fix, A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age. That was published ten years ago in 2007.
Nor will I likely stop working for a living. In 2013 I did take a “break” of sorts from the 8 to 5 world. My late wife had just passed away and several months later, the copywriting gig that I’d landed with an Internet marketing firm was withdrawn. So I launched my own little company and won some more contract work. In some respects, it was much like being “retired” in the sense that I worked from home and did not have to commute, or visit an office every day. Nor did I have to or engage in eight-hour teambuilding exercises that made you want to run from people at any cost.
False and true inspirations
Sorry to be a little cynical, but much of the corporate world is a tryst with inanity. Take a long look at your feed on LinkedIn some day. All those phony damned inspirational quotes and pre-produced memes about teamwork make me want to gag.
Having spent years in competitive athletics and many more years collaborating in the corporate and non-profit world, I know a few things about teamwork. It’s no more complex than getting along with others (which is not always easy) and asking their opinions before making plans. Then you come to a consensus agreement on the right course of action and put things in motion. And if that fails, or people fall down on their end of the bargain, or the committee idea turns out to be just BAD, you goddamned do it yourself so that it gets done. That’s called initiative. I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for that. One should never retire from getting things done.
Because it all still comes down to individual initiative. I recall an afternoon training with cross country teammates in college. We were doing quarter mile hill repeats on a 7% grade in preparation for a hilly meet up at St. Olaf, where the course climbs a big hill on campus. During one of the rest breaks between intervals one of my teammates trotted over to say, “Cud, you really need to be ready for this weekend. I’m hurt and we need you to be the leader.”
His toe was aching from a nagging running injury, you see. He knew that he might not be in top form, and I was running well in the early season, usually second man on the team. Yes, my teammate was putting pressure on me. That’s also what teammates do. Push you when you need a push.
As it happened, that teammate and I wound up placing sixth and seventh overall in that meet. We teamed up at 3.5 miles and started passing people. With 300 meters to go we spied the third man for the team most likely to compete for the title and my teammate turned to me and said, “Let’s go.”
There was not a question in that moment. We both sprinted past him, one on one side, one the other. Then we closed the gap between us and finished the sprint to the chute. Our team won the invitational.
There is a symbolism to that kind of effort that lasts your whole life. I’m sixty years old, and I’ve long come to realize there are choices in life to be made. One can settle for whatever you see just ahead of you, or you can make up your mind to finish with all you’ve got. This is what I learned during those couple years of ‘semi-retirement’ while recovering from life events that were hard and long. I kept doing the things I love. The writing. The painting. The running and riding. And the loving. My children. My friends. My faith. And I found love again with a woman who respects all of that, and more.
I’m not the retiring type. Never have been. Never will be.
And that is all.