Random Thoughts About Life
I don’t know when that term, “personal best,” arrived on the sporting scene. To my recollection, it was first heard in track and field, but I may be wrong about that, and a brief search online gave me next to nothing with regards to its history.
I find it to be an interesting term.
I’m being only slightly sarcastic when I say it sounds like one of those gold stars elementary teachers give to all the kids so they can feel like they are noticed and appreciated.
I understand it in track and field events. There is only one “best,” right? There is only one best at a particular competition, only one “best” in a state, only one “best” in a country and, ultimately, only one “best” in the world, which basically leaves out the other 99.999999 percent who participate in those events. So in order to feel a sense of accomplishment, on an individual basis, athletes chase after personal bests . . . a personal best running the mile . . . a personal best throwing the discus . . . a personal best lifting weights . . . it gives goal-oriented people something to shoot for.
Up to a point!
At some point, in athletics, it is no longer possible to reach a personal best. Our bodies are only capable of doing so much. We will eventually reach the point of diminishing returns based on a number of physical and mental factors. I have no idea what my personal best is in running a mile. Let’s just say, for the sake of discussion, that it was once six minutes. There is no way on earth that I will ever again run a six-minute mile . . . no way . . . no amount of optimism and positive thinking can push this sixty-nine year old body around a track, for a mile, in six minutes.
So once it becomes painfully obvious that a personal best is no longer attainable, what do athletes do?
And, for the sake of this article, what do the rest of us do?
I’m a Writer
I keep thinking of Harper Lee, the author of the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Until recently it was believed she only wrote that one book . . . considered one of the finest in literature . . . her personal best for sure . . . and then she quit writing.
Do you suppose she knew at the time there was no way she was ever going to write that well again? She had attained her personal best so why go on? That’s a hell of a decision, don’t you think? I doubt I could do that, just quit writing, resting on my considerable laurels (if I had any).
Steinbeck, Hemingway, Shakespeare . . . when did they write their personal bests, and were they aware of it when they did?
I think about these things when I write. What if I’ve already achieved my personal best? What if, after I published “Resurrecting Tobias,” my best was behind me, and the rest of my writing career will be spent chasing the unattainable? My muse will whisper to me occasionally, telling me I’m wasting my time, suggesting to me I would be using my time more wisely if I just stuck with urban farming. What does one do with that realization? What if everything published in the future will be judged as “second best?”
And artists out there, and sculptors, and musicians . . . do you suppose Leonard Cohen realized he had reached his all-time personal best when he wrote “Hallelujah?” If so, what kind of disappointment did he feel for the rest of his life? What kind of frustration, still writing songs but knowing his personal best was twenty years in the rearview mirror?
Did Judy Garland know her personal best happened in the Wizard of Oz? I wonder how she felt about that?
Hell, extend that line of thinking to include practically everyone. Parents, did you experience your personal best in raising Child #1, and Child #2 and Child #3 just experienced your “less than best?” Pastor, was your personal best sermon five years ago, Christmas of 2013?
My personal best bowling game was a 279 back in 1966, but at the time I didn’t know it. My personal best report card was in 1970, but I had no clue at that time.
So how does one know, and what do you do with that knowledge once you have it?
So that’s the question, isn’t it?
What do you do, knowing your best is behind you, or even just suspecting that perhaps your best efforts and days and creations are behind you?
Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of “Eat, Pray, Love” asks this same question in a TedTalks episode. The success of her book in 2006 caught her completely by surprise, and once she thought about it, this same question haunted her. What happens now? What does a writer do when THE BEST has happened? How do you follow that up? Your muse won’t shut up. The desire to write lives on . . . but the best is in the rearview mirror.
It seems to me, and this is just me, that if you are human, if you are a card-carrying member of the species called homo sapiens, you just keep trying because that’s what we do.
Quitting is not an option!
I write because I love to write. I farm because I love to farm. I continue to be a parent, a husband, and a friend because I love being those things. I continue to build things, and try new things, and experience all there is for me to experience, because that’s what we humans do. This is how I’m hard-wired.
And I continue to attempt to do my best, even though I know, most likely, my best is behind me, because that is how I was raised.
And I suspect the same can be said for most of you who are reading this.
High School Most Likely to . . .
Remember in the high school yearbooks, there is always a section of “students most likely?” One student is named “Most Likely To Become Famous,” and one “Most Likely To Be A Sports Star,” and so on and so on. In my high school yearbook I’m not mentioned at all. Evidently I was “Most Likely To Accomplish Absolutely Nothing” because none of my classmates considered me noteworthy. Such is the fate of an introvert.
I laugh at the silliness of it all.
I may not be rich. I may not be famous. I never made it to the Major Leagues in baseball. My businesses were never listed on the Fortune 500. I will never grace the cover of Time Magazine.
But I’ve done all right for myself, and I continue to try because damn, folks, I love this life of mine! I love what I do. I create stories with words. I touch peoples’ hearts with letters of the alphabet. I make friendships with people I’ll never meet. Every single day, for me, is a personal best.
And I’ll tell you one more thing and then let you go: my personal bests may be behind me, but there’s more to come!
You ain’t seen nothing yet!
2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)