Thursday, July 14, 2011

Work by others- Divine Discontent

I just saw the term, "Divine Discontent" over on Rappstar's blog and I really enjoyed the message.

I find the term very apt, since it conveys the constant push and pull that I feel about competitive running. Running is my passion, but it also produces incredible guilt and dread within me and is an aspect of my personality that often leaves me on the fringe of non-sporting social circles. There's a reason that my wife and closest friends are athletes, we are social misfits together.
There are few areas of life that provide the same sort of accountability as a race course. You cannot hide from the result sheet, or a time on the clock. It tells you exactly how good you were on that day, at that moment. It can be brutally honest. I appreciate that honesty.
I would be happy doing daily runs and exploring new terrain, and that is definitely a significant motivation, but races have a different appeal. Truth be told, I have a love hate relationship with them, but I always come back for more.
I often feel selfish for heading out for my long runs, and can dread hard efforts on tired legs, but I head out anyway.
I don't always like the person that I become when I race. I can be aggressive and rude and I don't always appreciate the trails and views that I pass throughout the course, but I also love the feeling of striving relentlessly forward and I have a strong attachment to that other persona.
I race largely because of my desire to explore my limits and to see how good I can be at running and races are a great barometer of this. They are a mirror that reflect all the work, time and preparation that I put in.
In some cases, exploring my limits means trying to figure out a way of winning a race, in others, it's to accomplish a certain task or process, often as a step with a bigger goal in mind, like improving a race skill, working on nutrition, or getting fitter. In each scenario, there's a voice that chirps away in the back of my mind and the only way I can quiet it is to head out for a run, which I inevitably enjoy. I guess this is my "Runner's Calm".
Regardless of my motivation, the voice is the reason that I sign up for events and it's the same voice that gets me out on the trail on many days and I use the voice to talk myself through the dark parts of a race.
The feeling of pushing forward, preparing, training and racing has many fleetingly divine moments, when everything feels right and my choices are justified, but it is also a feeling that never last long enough and is one that I rarely satisfy. After I've crossed the finish line and I begin to reflect on the race and my preparation for it, there's always something that I could do better, a mistake to correct, a reason to sign up for one more race...a hope of extending that divine feeling.

This is a feeling that all athletes understand and is what puts us on the fringe of social norms, as Tanya Aldered conveys eloquently in a Daily Telegraph article:

"As adults, most of us don't win or lose in our normal waking hours ...We are all judged, but generally it is a matter of opinion rather than an incontrovertible truth. We forget the frustration of physically failing, of the unforgiving tick of the clock, and discovering that your rival is stronger, faster, fitter, better...But this is what athletes do all the time. No one always wins ...And yet they train endlessly in hope. What a daunting way to spend your life. No wonder so many of us gladly hang up the shoes of competition as soon as we reach adulthood. "

It's an aspect of myself that I still wrestle with, but it is also one that I have come to accept and appreciate over the years. It's my Divine Discontent.

Divine discontent is a term used by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, one of the best in the World. It means:

(...) that within us is the constant desire to be better, and it is a sacred gift. That if we refuse to settle for what we have, for the success we’ve reached so far, then we can become better versions of our mortal selves. If you aren’t happy with being a national semi-finalist, then make a change. If you aren’t happy with your role on this team, make a change. Let it begin with you. Don’t mistake this dissatisfaction with thanklessness or ingratitude or a want for vanity or selfish desires. It’s like a hallowed ember that’s constantly turning inside you; it includes a gratitude for what you have, but it’s accompanied by a drive to make it excellent, almost transcendent.

I’m not gonna lie to you, embracing divine discontent is not a short path to happiness. It’s torturous. That is unless you accept this internal discomfort as a sort of affirmation. And it will torment you until you come out the other side. It’s constantly trying to outdo yourself, and to challenge yourself not to become complacent. Imagine if you embrace this concept. Imagine how much better you can be.

Frankly, I believe this is the only way a person can come closest to his fullest potential. I leave it to you guys, but this team could be special. And our discontent could be a team-wide goal to be the best, both as an individual and as a unit. Remember, you are the team. Be relentless. Enjoy the suffering.


James Wanless said...

Great post Adam. And while I'll never do a 5:06 Knee Knacker, I relate completely with it. Your divine discontent is what forces you to run and be the kind of runner many of us aspire to be.

A little over a decade ago, before a bunch of life stuff put running on the back burner I was getting pretty good, not elite, but decent.

When the life issues got out of the way, on came the injuries. Not significant enough to end my running, but definitely to force big gaps. First hip, then hernia, then major groin pull, then last fall a torn meniscus which I have to run on because it's not bad enough for surgery.

I have enough excuses, but I just can't bring myself to use them to not run or ride, and when I have to skip some training or go short I still feel guilty for doing so. The races I run now are motivation to keep training, trying desperately to get back to what I was starting to do back then.

I don't think anyone who does this stuff is ever satisfied or ever stops trying. If they did, they would have become a different person.

Gregwh said...

There is that feeling of well being one gets when in good aerobic shape that is very hard to give up, and why should we? That foundation of physical fitness gives you an edge in all that you do. You are operating on a higher level, and not surprisingly tend to hang with others at that level.

Tom Craik said...

I love this, Adam. It speaks a million truths and it is exactly why we do what we do. Even the best of the best takes a time following a big race or accomplishment to figure out how they might have done better.

As a teacher, it scares me that young people are being allowed to avoid this "divine discontent". In school they rarely lose. They can't fail anymore. If you come in last place you still get a ribbon. Is it okay to simply "participate". What message is this sending? Is it okay to just get what you get and never want more? Seldom do losers who strive for nothing more than they already have discover or achieve anything great other than perpetual mediocrity.

MarkyV said...

Some call it a burden to always need to be better, I cannot see living without it.

Adamo said...

Thanks for all the comments.

James, take care of that body, sounds like you've had some tough hurdles.

Tom, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with handing out participation ribbons to everyone. In fact, participating and finishing can be the goal in itself for many.
I think the critical point is always to reflect and dissect what you do and to learn from the wins and losses. This applies to people at all rungs.
By definition, there can only be one champion, but that doesn't mean that no one else should be recognized for their efforts, especially if that effort reflects what they are capable.