The website Quora is a forum where people respond to questions from others. Some of the questions are phrased rather oddly, often with poor English, but some of that is contextual because the queries can come from all over the world where English may not be the primary language.
This morning I answered a question about “What are your deepest thoughts” and used a running analogy to answer. Thought you might enjoy and perhaps be moved to ask yourself that question or respond here with what your deeper thoughts are these days. The comments section below is always open, and you can click through from email to get there. I’d love to hear what “deep thoughts” you have about life.
Here’s what I wrote:
I am sixty years old. I’ve witnessed a number of people that were quite close to me die over the last 10 years. These include a wife, a father and mother, a father-in-law and a longtime running coach and friend who was a deep influence on my life.
Seeing death so closely has changed me in a way that can be described as calming. While death used to be such a mystery, and I knew very few people who died when I was still young, it is now part of my life in the sense that I carry along the intimate knowledge that it will someday happen to me.
Whether that comes tomorrow or perhaps 20–25 years from now, it has challenged me to think about what I have accomplished in life and what it means. And having done many things that were successful, but also many things that have failed, I now regard them with an almost equal status.
That sounds strange to say, because we’re often told that only winning counts. And while winning feels great, which I know from having won running races with more than three thousand people in them, I also have gained quite a bit from competing and “losing.”
For example, I once ran a race that was delayed for the start until midnight. It was just a bunch of us diehard runners lined up in the cool of night. The gun went off and I raced along for 5000 meters at what started out as 4:40 mile pace. I ran a personal best of 14:45 for the 5K distance that race, yet I finished in 14th place.
Should I have gone home disappointed that I did not “win” when actually, I did my best? Because by contrast two months later I put undue pressure on myself during a statewide competition by thinking I had to win to succeed. I wound up falling from a sure third place bronze medal position to sitting in a wheelbarrow full of ice because I overheated.
See, that’s an allegory for life right there. So many of us overheat from the personal dramas that we create in our heads. What was better, soaring along doing my best or pushing false expectations into my brain that caused a burnout?
As I watched people close to me die I realized that more than the statement “life is precious” or “seize the day” is acknowledging that “trying your best” should also include a clear recognition of what that really means. Because truly winning at life is a matter not just “winning” in the traditional sense but also to know where your contributions matter the most.
When my late wife was diagnosed with cancer, that coach friend of mine called me up and said, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.” And by that he meant that it would take all the guts and persistence I had to stand by her side and face life’s pressures one after the other.
That’s what I’ve learned at sixty years old. And it never, ever stops. Until you die.
So that’s what I think about daily. How to know where my contributions matter most. That can be personal, fiscal, social, religious and political. Take your pick. We’re multifaceted human beings. Both material and spiritual, I believe, and one does not deny the other.