Life is Not a Race

Winning in the Olympics is just too easy. Or at least too easy to spot, corrects my envied self.

olympic ski race

What I mean is that I’ve always envied the clarity of success in sports. The cross-country ski race I watched recently, for example, was stirring in its pace, and rousing in its colors. Thirty kilometres across thick snow, under an unfailing sun, and against the ambitions of the best skiers alive. It was exhausting just to watch the amount of effort the athletes were putting into getting ahead of one another. They had to pull their legs uphill, stick their poles against the ground every second, stretch fatigued muscles, strategize the use of the remaining drops of energy vis-à-vis the performance of athletes ahead and behind.

Still, the winner eventually reached the finish line, and celebrated the performance of his life. He shouted and collapsed to the ground. The struggle had ended; he had won before everybody’s eyes. He could rest in the certainty of victory and of history. He would receive a gold medal on his chest and fly home as a national hero.

Stirring races like these give us motivation to persevere in daily life. We receive a fresh vision of the delights awarded to persistence. We are inspired by athletes reaching for their deepest reservoirs of energy and skill.

Yet life is rarely as clear as a race. We give out the best we have, but there is no finish line to establish a once for all victory. Some milestones are useful – a graduation ceremony, a romantic proposal, a deserved promotion – but they come too rarely, and their decisiveness is not clear. It is not as simple as winning a race. Success in real life is the careful synchronization of many factors, an unending river of turns, downfalls and setbacks. Life is multifaceted; success is complex and often unclear.

And that’s why our definition of success is so important. “There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why,” writes William Barclay. The day we discover the reason of our existence is like the day we start to live. It is like being born anew, like the day we are born from above, as Jesus puts it. It is the day we start to live in light of eternity, the day time gets transfused with significance, the day our definition of success gets distilled like mountain water.

Life is not as clear as a race. Success is open to interpretation. We may not know what the finish line consists of just yet. But every day can be a successful day – blink-blink, or how someone would but it, “he who has ears to hear let him hear” – for every day can be a day we can set off anew, maybe even get born one more time.

René Breuel

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