Gym class sucks, doesn’t it? I know. But I’ve got some knowledge that you don’t, and you might be interested to hear it.
I know the drill. You change into those awful gym uniforms made of that scratchy material in that smelly locker room full of jocks and other people you wouldn’t even want to be around in clothes, much less in your underwear. Then you’re be directed by your teachers to run (!) up the path and around on a track that may as well have been a circumnavigation of the globe. And it was usually freezing cold.
The class would almost immediately spread out along the path: the kids who did track at the front, the bulk of the rest of the class gamely following along.
And then, leading up the rear would be you, struggling to even keep moving, the air searing your lungs.
It was a daily or weekly affirmation of your inadequacy. And this is at an age where playing sports and being athletic was pretty much synonymous with social success, to say nothing of the interest of girls.
I don’t know which made you feel more embarrassed, being one of the last people to finish that circuit, or the company of gawky, awkward kids who were your athletic peer group. I remember you thinking: “I’m cooler than these guys, right?”
And then there was the end-of-year “Presidential Fitness” trials, where you’d have to run an entire mile. I know how you dreaded that, where you’d be timed on how fast you couldn’t do things. Putting everyone up on a tally, the cool kids at the top, you on the bottom.
It was too traumatic to realize at the time, but this was a situation that was guaranteed to make you feel inadequate, and all for unimportant reasons:
Those who are at the front of the pack and those who were at the back are there almost entirely because of genetics. Granted, some of the track folks and maybe a few of the football players had training because of their particular extracurriculars, but self-selection also played a part, in that they probably wouldn’t even have tried out unless they had some natural aptitude.
You didn’t. You still don’t, unfortunately. Even today, you have no real talent for running, or really for any athletic ability.
But what you couldn’t understand at the time is that this is totally meaningless.
And I don’t mean it in a consolatory way, to make you feel better for being at the bottom of the heap. I’m just saying that just because you’re not predisposed to being good at something bears no causal relationship to your ability to be good at something.
Who cares how fast or far you can run by default without any prep or training? I fully believe (and have seen over and over again) that having no natural talent when combined with hustle will trump natural talent with no hustle every single time. And isn’t it more becoming of one’s character to achieve something through work as opposed to “naturally”?
Now granted, you couldn’t have known this, and even if you did, I’m not sure if you would devote the time or energy to improving your physical abilities.
But I do.
You see, that’s the reason why I’m writing you today. I’m running now. I signed up for a five mile run, my first ever. Yes, that’s five (!) of those Presidential Fitness runs you hated so much.
I’ve never done anything of the sort before, and I’m not ready to do it yet. But I will be. And it feels great.
I’m not running to be the fastest, of course. And I’m not running because I expect to become “a runner“. I may do something like this again, and I may not. I rode 200 miles on a bike two years ago (believe it or not) and I haven’t yet been moved to do it again.
In truth, I’m mostly running this for you. For the one who thinks that he can’t, I’m here to show you that you can. And I wanted to let you know.
P.S. Oh, and entirely by the way, you’ve got only a little longer before girls start showing interest in you. I know that seems crazy, and you don’t believe me, but it’s true. But you’ll have to navigate that without my help.
Your self from the future,
But enough about me. What would you write to your 7th grade self?
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