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Self Awareness, Mortality, and Laying the Foundation

July 12, 2017


This Week's Interesting Thought: Self Awareness and Mortality 


A large part of self-awareness—the ability to know what we really want—is a bit odd in that one of the best ways to achieve it is to think not more but rather less about ourselves. When we step outside of our day-to-day selves we cut through noise and clutter and realign with what matters most. One of the most powerful ways to do this is also one of the most uncomfortable: reflecting on mortality. Yet grappling with the end of our literal self has a unique way of making clear what we want to do with it in the limited time we have. Reading a memoir or essay about death and dying helps us to figure out what we hope to get out of life and living. When we mindfully confront our inevitable end we pay more attention to what we want to do prior to it. 

In her brave and beautiful book The Bright Hour, the late Nina Riggs writes, “Living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But living without a terminal disease is also like walking over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a little more.”

Books like Riggs's help lift the fog for a bit. 

And while reading is so effective because the act commands our full attention, even just spending a minute or two regularly thinking about the fact that we'll all die—some of us sooner than others—can also be helpful. 

As for what to read, some suggestions: The Bright Hour (Riggs), When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi), Mortality (Hitchens), Being Mortal (Gawande), What Should Medicine Do When It Can't Save You (Gawande). None are easy to get through, which makes them all the more valuable. 


This Week's Coaching Corner: Laying the Foundation


“A Great fall season is made in the summer”

I (Steve) speak these words to my college team every spring, as we head into summer training to prepare for the fall cross country season. The message is simple: If we wait until competition time to start worrying about getting fit, we are too late. Once we are in season, the focus shifts to sharpening and refining, bringing the fitness to full fruition. If we don’t have a summer foundation, then we are attempting to build and refine at the same time, which rarely works.
The in-season work is the fun part. We get to run fast, set new personal bests, and observe firsthand our progress. When we are in the summer, however, progress is more abstract and the work becomes an almost mind-numbing process of nailing the basics over and over again. In running that mean lots of monotonous miles run and repetitive form work. In other activities, that might mean dedicating a block of time to the not-so-sexy basics or putting effort into menial background work. 

There’s little glory in the summer training grind, just as there’s little glory in learning the foundational knowledge of any subject. We’d much rather be performing fast intervals, or allowing our inner creativity to fly free on our latest project. But we can’t get there unless—until—we nail the basics. Whether in running or in life, you can’t shortcut the process of growth. In the words of our friend Ryan Holiday, "Greatness comes from grunt work." 


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