Is it worth it?
That's the incessant question we always ask. The question we unconsciously and consciously consider day in and day out. The question that keeps us up at night as we put every fiber of our being and every ounce of our energy into chasing our inconsolable dreams. And perhaps it's what makes us continue on against all odds.
I used to be a collegiate runner up until May of 2021. Over 12 years of my life spent training hard, making sacrifices, waking up early, running thousands and thousands of miles. And then, I was done. I got called into an office, and told that there was no longer a spot for me on the team. And like that, my running career ended. I was numb. The funny thing was that I knew it was coming. I was almost relieved that I didn't have to make the decision myself. Running had given me everything, it had taken everything, and I had no idea what to do or how to feel anymore.
It was no secret that running in college had become something entirely different than what it used to be for me. Constant pressure and competition, fueled mostly by my own goals and self analysis, had stolen the childlike joy I used to have and replaced it with a feeling of inadequacy and frustration. It became a measure of my personal value. Every race, I would walk away in tears. I hated putting so much into something that seemed to give so little in return. To wake up every morning, caring so much about a sport, and not see any improvement. To see constant failure and constant embarrassment in front of my peers. It broke me down, and scared me away. Yes, my coaches cut me. But I had given up on myself long before then.
And so, here lies the conundrum. After having time away from the running world and the pressure of it all, I vowed to myself that I would never again let myself get so deep into something and allow it to define my value. I never again want to beat myself up for failing, or to get in a similar place with another sport again. I have been very careful to diversify my interests, to not try too hard at other sports or passions, because I don't want to take it too seriously. Even as I move on to new things like cycling, I continue to keep it at a distance and ensure I don't fully train for it or work too hard. I keep portraying this as a healthy thing to do. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that maybe I'm missing the point, and the reason I'm taking these precautions is mainly because I am scared of putting so much into something and failing. Again.
Maybe the point is to care that much. Maybe the value is found in the failure. The fact that we are willing to put everything on the line for something, even if it will beat us down and break us, is actually what is so beautiful about it. Maybe we don't have to succeed for it to be worth it, and the raw beauty is found in the fact that we are willing to feel that sort of pain and risk never achieving those goals. Perhaps it's not only okay, not only beautiful, but courageous to pursue these dreams. As athletes, we must find the balance between our sport and other aspects of our lives. But we must also realize that there is no getting around failure and pain if we truly put our all into chasing our dreams. It's the only way to fully pursue these dreams. It is bravery in its most raw form.
So to the athletes out there; continue pursuing those dreams. Find the balance, ensure that you are valuing yourself outside of your sport, but also know that there is a healthy amount of absurdity and bravery that must be exhibited. That the tough emotions and failures are as much a part of the sport as the good stuff. It must be present in order to have a chance of succeeding at these wild dreams. It's what dreaming is.