Over the past three fall sports seasons I have spent virtually each one of my Saturday mornings and afternoons at cross country meets. On those Saturdays, in the morning when the air is still crisp and cool, I make my way to the starting line to race. During each warm up jog and each loosening-up stride, I try to wrap my mind around the daunting task that lies ahead—running a 5K, as fast as I can.
The concept of “running a 5K” may seem simple to those who don’t know it, or haven’t practiced it very much. But those of us who more educated, know that a cross country race has more to it than meets the eye. We runners have experienced the unimaginable physical strain of the finishing kick, the monolithic self-doubt brought on by the middle mile, and the spiritual searching that takes place when reflecting on a bad race. We know that simply “running fast” the 3.1 miles we train all year to complete is one terrible, cohesive monster we must hurdle every Saturday in the fall. And hurdling that monster starts with a mantra that, in some form or another, we all hold in common: “don’t settle.”
For the almost three years that I’ve called myself a cross country runner, I can’t remember a single race when I haven’t heard a coach screaming in my ear, “don’t settle, don’t settle!”. Though my brain tones out almost all the other noise made by the spectators, these words always filter clearly through the tumult. I look forward to them every race. They remind me of my far-reaching capabilities, and my internalized desire to be the best, and most importantly: to never accept my current state as the one I’m stuck with. I depend on the words my coaches yell to me to get me through each race, and the times in between. I’ve taken them up as a motto for my life.
Now, I often tell people that if I’m too comfortable, I’m uncomfortable. I never like to be stuck in one situation and hate the feeling of being static, or unchanged. I’m constantly evaluating the information that comes to me and trying to figure out things like, which option is the best?, or where will I be happiest? I try more new things, and feel that the religiously and socio-economically uniform bubble of Calvinist West Michigan, in which I live, is way too constraining.
I’m always asking questions of myself, and that can lead to negative thoughts sometimes. But I believe that understanding is gained through asking questions, and happiness comes from finding truth in thought. Understanding and happiness rarely come without pain, though–much like a race. The best possible outcome in a race never comes without pain. It costs a price that is hard to pay while being complacent. But if you’re searching for the next phase, willing to be in transition, the pain becomes only a necessary, but temporary side effect, and the transition is worth it–that’s what I’ve come to believe. Taking a chance is a learning experience, so don’t settle for ignorance. New ground is the best ground.