DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter
Our school’s girls’ running group
About four months ago, an email was sent out to the staff at our high school asking if anyone would be interested in organizing a girls’ running group. The runners would train six weeks for a 5 km run in support of women’s mental health to be held May 7. I volunteered to help lead the initiative along with two other teachers. We soon had a group of about fifteen girls, many of whom had never run or been on any sports team before, and they committed to running twice per week.
I remember the first run we did in the pouring rain at the end of March. Our goal was to run for two minutes and then walk for a minute, and I stayed behind with the slowest runners. A girl I’ll call F.H. was not able to maintain the two-minutes-on, one-minute-off pace, and so I changed it to a minute on followed by a minute off for her. Still, she couldn’t maintain it.
But F.H. came out faithfully week after week, and before too long, she was running three minutes for every minute of walking. The day of our 5 km run, she woke up with a sense of dread, and would have been glad to miss the event. After completing the run, however (with a few walking breaks), she was on a high, eager to sign up for the next 5 km road race.
And so our group, which was to train for six weeks, will be training until the end of the school year, and we’re signed up for another 5 km run June 18. Yesterday, F.H. led our group, running 17 minutes before her first stop. She’s got a goal for her June 18 run, and she’s psyched.
Noncompetitive vs. competitive running
I have helped to coach a few cross country running and track teams over my teaching career, but never have I been so satisfied with coaching as I am now with this non-competitive group. It is heartening to see a completely nonathletic student respond to the safe, no-pressure invitation to try running in a non-competitive environment. And it’s wonderful to see that same student experience the runner’s high, to gain enthusiasm, and a “Wow! I can do this!” confidence.
At the same time, I understand the excitement of elite athletes. DD2 finished her university track year with two bronze medals at the Provincial Championships. She has started her summer season with a tour of the U.S., and she has high hopes of competing in the Canadian Nationals in July. I’m thrilled for her whenever she achieves a personal best time, and I share hopes for a great season with her. But I keep those hopes tempered.
The last thing I want is for DD2 to carry a disappointment about not achieving . . . whatever. I don’t think that there is any achievement that can ultimately satisfy an elite athlete. Is it enough to make Nationals? To get to the finals in Nationals? To medal in Nationals? Is it enough to compete internationally? To make the Olympics? To medal in the Olympics? For every level reached, a higher level beckons. And that Olympic gold? How many times does it have to be won to guarantee satisfaction?
The point is, when it comes to elite athletics, there is no guarantee of lasting satisfaction. And when elite athletes do make the decision to step back from competition, some find it very difficult to pursue non-competitive work-outs for the sake of fitness. There’s a humbling to it. A sense of something lost. Compare that to the happiness of F.H. – just delighted to run for 17 whole minutes without stopping.
Connection to personal finance?
In the personal finance bloggosphere, I see parallels to athletics. There are the badass elites – buying their homes outright in their 20s; achieving FIRE in their 30s; becoming multi-millionaires by age 40 … And on the other extreme, there are the “completely nonathletic” – the maxed-out debtors living payday to payday in middle-age, trying to turn things around.
I can’t help but think there’s the danger of a constant inner churning for some among the elites. A hyper competitiveness that is never satisfied with its own level of frugality, earnings, savings, investments … because there is always someone else who seems to be doing better, younger, faster. By the same token I have had the pleasure of sharing many, “Wow! We can do this!” moments with fellow debtors. We really are happy to have found this previously unknown capacity within ourselves to be financially disciplined, tenacious, and smart. We’re delighted to pay off a debt – or to have saved an emergency fund.
A balance between striving and contentment
For DD2, I try to keep my hopes balanced, and I encourage her to do the same. Of course I want her to reach her potential. I admire her ambition and her commitment to running. I join in her excitement about her big dreams. But more than that, I hope that she’ll find a happiness in sport and physical fitness for the long term. Thirty years from now, will she be able to experience the joy of running with no competitive agenda? Like her mom? And as for F.H., I hope that she keeps on finding motivation to run longer and stronger. It’s great to see in her the beginnings of a pursuit of excellence – because with it come growing confidence and spark.
In the same way, I marvel at the achievements of the pf superstars. Money in the hands of wise financial planners can accomplish great things, and it’s exciting to learn the plans and accomplishments of the badasses. I hope they reach all of their goals and then some. But more than that, I hope that they find contentment for the long run – satisfaction in the life they’ve set themselves up for. And as for the reformed maxed-out debtors, I hope we all transition from recognizing we can do it to a pursuit of excellence in financial health that, only a few years ago, we wouldn’t even have conceived of. I hope that we all aspire not just to an absence of the negative of debt, but to the presence of positive opportunities and possibilities that come with financial fitness.
Is it possible to strike a healthy balance between striving and contentment? Your comments are welcome.