Through the Finish Line

When trying to sprint as fast as possible, I was taught not to look at the finish line but at a point far beyond the end of the track, a building or tree in the distance. That way, I would cross the finish line in mid stride, at my fastest. I wouldn’t risk slowing down with a look at my opponents or coasting into the finish, I’d always be running at top speed. A little mental trick to keep on task. In whatever races we all run, a similar focus can be hard to obtain.

There’s a major redistribution of time occurring at the moment. S0 many tasks have been made obsolete, from filing taxes to making dinner, that we’ve been hit with a huge dose of choice. We can look to achieve more than previously possible within our traditional careers and push toward higher levels of being and happiness. I remember when yoga was niche, now it’s nearly embarrassing to admit you’ve never been. It doesn’t seem surprising that the ‘automation’ of our world has coincided with a proliferation of relaxed workplaces, generous paternity leave, and countless gurus preaching about the positives of transcendental meditation. It may not be perfect, but there has definitely been a change in focus beyond the money and wealth that have traditionally been barometers of success. Most of us are more conscious of the food we eat, the media we consume, and even the environment in which we all live, as a way to optimize for happiness.

For me, this new world is an exciting one to live in, but does not need all my attention. I treasure the mornings where I’m able to get my mind onto paper or read while listening to smooth jazz. The first two hours of my morning changes very little between days, and it’s a pleasure to look forward to each evening. The ability to grow on a regular basis, through small steps taken in the right direction, is incredibly empowering. But an overfocus on daily happiness can have its own deficiencies.

“‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

-Steve Jobs

Countless jobs, both mine and others, have been quit thanks to this quote from Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech. Consistently heading into a toxic, frustrating situation is insanity. Life is too short for bad jobs and terrible days.

But Jobs never discusses happiness or freedom, relaxation or amusement. He, probably more than most, understood the importance of sacrificing now to achieve in the future. Difficulty in the near term need not be unwelcome, especially when it’s the only path to greatness.

It was an early morning train, while reading a trashy New York City morning newspaper, that I decided to start picking up books while commuting. Time has made this a comfortable habit, enhancing my life more than I could have imagined with stories about founding fathers, dystopian futures, and carb-free diets. It’s improved my life in ways I couldn’t have foreseen, but now feels like the time to raise the bar. Like a runner’s form, reading and writing keep the fundamentals in place while allowing a complete focus toward the race at hand. It’s probably time to return focus to the proper point, far beyond the finish line.