Friday, October 2, 2009

Challenges define my life.

"Just as you can keep putting cash into your 401K and likely be fine when you retire, you can keep doing the same rides on the same bike every week. You'll have some amount of fun and maintain good health, but what are the chances that something amazing is going to happen? In both cases, huge returns may come from breaking your routine and taking risks.

...if you doubt your ability to do something, then you have a fantastic challenge, on that, if you rise to meet it, will change the way you think about yourself as a rider. The risk of failure and the effort of reaching for something you think may be beyond your grasp add
an emotional element that cannot be matched by the weekly ride. And it's because of all the apprehension, fear, determination, commitment - the whole mix - that these rides transcend fun and deliver satisfaction, fulfillment, pride.

(you need a) challenge (that) is bigger than you have ever faced, big enough that you're not sure you can meet it. If you succeed, the reward is yours. If you fail, well, no one ever said risk is without risk. But absent progression, whether in riding or in life, you're just marking days until you die." Jasen Thorpe "UP FRONT" Mountain Bike Magazine November 2009 issue

"The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew - and live through it." Doug Bradbury from Twitter

These two quotes form part of the framework of my thinking. I've always been called to challenge myself and risk biting off more than I can chew. My first challenge was a cross country run in high school. It was a little over 3 miles and was open only to students who were not already school athletes. It would be held the last day of homecoming week. I excitedly told my father about my desire to try this as I handed him the permission slip he needed to sign. He handed it back unsigned and stated flatly, "You'll never make it. You don't know how far 3 miles is."

I persuaded him to sign anyway and the next day at school a classmate, Rick Pople encouraged me with the promise of getting some of the freshman football team, of which he was the quarterback, to be at the finish line to cheer for me if I made it. I made it, without any training - foolishly - and he kept his promise. It would become a trademark of mine from now on.

Later, I joined the Marines with the same warning from my father and the same foolish optimism. I nearly didn't make it through boot camp, but when offered a chance to quit by the Command Sergeant Major I declined and finished the 12 week training with honors. I was awarded a meritorious promotion at graduation.

At Southern Illinois University I was working as a janitor in 1985 when the head of building services approached me with a proposition. Morris Library, he said, was not being cleaned. The janitors were slack and they couldn't get a supervisor to enforce good discipline and work habits. If they promoted me, he asked, would I be able to change this? Within a few months and after a death threat, nearly everyone requesting a change to a new building, and a union meeting where they tried to throw me out of the union I was in charge of a clean, organized building.

Even as recently as 2001 when everyone, including my precious wife, felt that my marriage to her shouldn't happen or would at least end in disaster, I took on all comers and won her hand in marriage. I now have the blessing promised by the Scriptures on those who have found a good wife.

And so it goes. I find myself drawn more to challenges and subsequent risks of failure than dying slowly on my couch looking much like a man, but hollow on the inside. I don't take foolish or dangerous risks merely for the adrenaline rush, but I am most happy when I work toward and achieve a challenge whose outcome is doubtful.

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