The Sh*tty Values of Track
My newest book obsession is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, the brutally honest, sarcastic, funny and mind changing self-help book by famous blogger Mark Manson. Unlike many or most self help books with the “If you believe, you can achieve” mantra, this book teaches its readers to acknowledge, accept and appreciate life’s problems and our own flaws rather than hide from them or hide them under false illusions of happiness. “Great a book promo” you say. No. As a track athlete, the balance of not giving a f*ck so you can train and compete with a clear mind without being lazy or indifferent of the sport is a balancing act that after years of running, I can say that I have masterfully …continued to struggle with.
The f*cks you give about something are based on the value you place on that something. Success is subjective based on the values and metrics we’ve placed on that success. Because they are subjective, it may be difficult to pinpoint which values and metrics are accurate and which ones suck. Have no fear, Mr. Manson (or his super Panda friend mentioned in his book) is here. In his book, he goes over a list of values that create negative, difficult to solve problems in our lives. Because, they were all too familiar to the values I’ve held in my own Track career, I’ve decided to share them.
“It’s what we fixate on. It’s what we use to numb and distract ourselves. But, pleasure, while necessary in life (in certain doses), isn’t, by itself sufficient.”- Mark Manson
It’s hard to tie track to pleasure when after a workout, your legs are pumped with so much lactic acid you can’t walk or you are hunched over a garbage can puking like someone who had too many shots and tacos together. However, athletes are sold the same formula “blood, sweat, tears=high reward and recognition”, and boy, some people love that recognition. Anyone who has won their event, placed in a championship, or achieved a personal best in their respective event, has gained recognition and praise. “Wait”, you may say, “isn’t pleasure more like a sex or food or substance thing?” I’m glad you imaginarily asked. A study showed that when most people receive a form of praise, the same parts of their brain that are triggered for sex are triggered with that “good job” or “great time” or “amazing race.” Oh yeah baby bring that sexy lingerie dressed “great Pb time” over here. “But you can’t get addicted to that?” Wow Reader, you are so imaginarily inquisitive. Did you feel something from that compliment? You very well can. Hence the term, “attention whore”. In fact there are signs for praise addicts as stated by CNN including: having an infinite praise tolerance, a flattering sidekick and even extreme praise avoidance. If you can listen to how awesome your last race was all day all night all week and all year long, only want teammates and coaches that stroke your ego and even downplay your achievements just for people to praise you on your humility or give you more compliments, you, my dear reader, might very well be an attention whore, a praise slut, a compliment hussy, etc.
There are other pleasures that one can gain from track including a great body, money in the form of prize money, scholarship or sponsorship, medals, rings, plaques and trophies and others that I can’t think of. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for your hard work. However, if you value the short lived pleasures of Track and Field over the grueling work and fight for those pleasures, you will likely not last long in this sport.
2. Material Success
On that cheery note, let’s move on to the next sh*tty value.
“The other issue with overvaluing material success is the danger of prioritizing it over other values, such as honesty, nonviolence, and compassion. When people measure themselves not by their behavior, but by the status symbols they’re able to collect, then not only are they shallow, but they’re probably a**holes as well.” – Mark Manson
We went over briefly the body, the prize money and the acknowledgments. For track and field, let’s add times and marks as well. Track and Field thrives on the “who’s grass is greener” mentality. The foundation of the sport is determining who is faster, stronger, more fit, more competitive, has better form, looks better, has the better coach, etc. We are constantly comparing ourselves to our competitors based on material or visual metrics. Yes, these can be great motivators and provide opportunity for competitors to push one another. However, this can turn to obsession and decreased sense of worth in personal attributes like personal achievements and personal character qualities necessary to be a great athlete including honesty, integrity and work ethic. Whether it’s downward comparison where you compare yourself to people you perceive as worse off than you or upward comparison where you perceive people better than you, as described in Psychology Today, you are still setting yourself up for failure. This overvalue of material success is often tied to the problem with enhancement drugs that the track and field community sometimes hides.
3. Always Being Right
“The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.”- Mark Manson
We know that cocky athlete. We’ve had that athlete as a teammate or have coached that athlete. This is the athlete that thinks, after a few successes and praise, that they know more about the sport than anyone else. In a good performance, they can create a list as long as a Harry Potter book about how their efforts led to that success. However, after a poor performance, they can create a list twice as long about how it was the fault of external factors for their slow time or awful throw: “bad ref”, “bad starter”, “someone tripped me”, “bad coaching”, and so on. Some of these excuses are legit, but after awhile of hearing the same excuses, you know who is full of it.
Track and Field is a sport where you grow and improve over time and learn from mistakes. Each practice and race should be an opportunity to learn your flaws and weaknesses. Having a “need to be right” mentality will not only be frustrating for the person as they continue to make the same mistakes, but also for those around them. You will often find this hard headed, always need to be right, athlete arguing with the coach because they want to do things their way or overall pissing off their teammates.
4. Staying Positive
“When we force ourselves to stay positive at all times, we deny the existence of our life’s problems. And when we deny our problems, we rob ourselves of the chance to solve them and generate happiness.”- Mark Manson
Yes, staying positive is necessary when you know you’ve got repeat 300s on the menu for today’s death workout. However, let’s be honest. Track f*cking sucks. It hurts. You can’t eat cookies. When the weather is warm and sunny and at its best for going out to the beach or going to the club, you are at home snacking on granola bars because you got a track meet that takes up your weekend and death practice the following Monday. You work hard for days and weeks only to come up short on the day of competition for whatever reason. It’s tough. It’s all tough. The pro athletes that put on a smile post race know it but don’t show it, but I’m not on TV (yet) so I can say it. That race hurt like hell. I know I’m not going to have any shoulders in my old age when my throwing career is done. “What knees?” Is what I’ll likely say after my last jump of my career.
Yet, here I am. I love the sport. I don’t love it for its pleasurable benefits. No medal that will ultimately be pawned by my a**hole great great grandkids or article about me is worth the time, money and moments lost in training and competition. It’s the community that I am a part of. It’s the lifelong character traits of perseverance, fearlessness, pain tolerance and confidence that I gained. It’s the opportunity to be a role model to someone else that make it worthwhile. As many athletes go into preseason, make sure your values for showing up to practice are worth what you are about to endure.
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