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.