The Idea vs Reality

The idea of doing something as opposed to the reality of what is really involved.

This comes up a lot in life, and I notice it quite a bit in sports. As I’ve been blogging about my experiences as a beginning triathlete, I’ve received support from a number of other athletes, some are bloggers; some people in my community. Many are triathletes or runners, others are swimmers or skaters. I have welcomed this support, finding encouragement helpful when struggling with new or difficult activities, including starting to run after a 30-plus year hiatus.

I’ve enjoyed these connections, and reading and hearing about other active people, their challenges with training and life, and the various events in which they participate. Trail runs, 10Ks, half marathons, ultra marathons, Ironman triathlons, ocean swims, figure skating; the list goes on. I read about their journeys, their triumphs and travails, and I get inspired. Maybe I could do that. Do I want to do that? That’s a very important question, along with its co-traveller: What’s required for me to do that?

Its relatively easy to get caught up in the excitement of a moment of athletic (or other) achievement and think “that’s for me, I can do that”. What often is unknown or forgotten in that moment of glory or inspiration is all the time and effort that preceded it. How many predawn workouts in pool or rink, Saturday nights spent studying rather than visiting with friends. How much great effort and sacrifice is required for this journey.

Implicit in choosing any path is also that many other paths are not chosen or pursued.

I have a couple of examples from my own life and family that illustrate this. Back in 2001, the Colorado Avalanche were Stanley Cup Champions and Patrick Roy was their goalie extraordinaire. Not long after that, a young nephew,”T”, decided that he wanted to be like Patrick Roy. I discovered this when my brother mentioned in passing how expensive hockey was. I did a bit of a double take, asking if T even knew how to skate. My brother allowed as how he did not.

We conferred a bit, and as Christmas was coming up, I said I would give T a session of skating lessons at the Y. A few weeks into his lessons, I stopped by to check out how things were going. I was enthusiastically greeted by T: “Aunt Steph, skating is lots harder than it looks!” He finished out his six weeks of lessons, and I’m not sure he’s skated since. Memo to self and parents everywhere: Start small, check out curiosities, experiment. Let the dream pursued belong to your child. The glittering lure of something is often tarnished by the reality of the process of going from beginner to expert. Many enthusiasms die an easy and natural death, and other curiosities can arise from that ground.

At my 25th college reunion, one of the speakers was a classmate who had become a mountaineering guide, leading expeditions around the world, including several to Mt. Everest. This was fascinating to many of us, and we asked if there was a trip that was accessible to a group of willing mid-life amateurs. He suggested Mt. Kilamanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. A month or two later, I received an email from a classmate that the trip was on.

Did I want to join? My initial response was yes. I thought about it further and considered what would be involved, particularly as regarded training. I’d need to be doing a number of hikes each week, at least one of them an all-day affair with a lot of elevation gain. Accessible enough to me here in Colorado. However, if I was doing those things, what wouldn’t I be doing? Figure skating was my answer. At that time, I was a passionate student and was skating 5 or 6 days a week. I wasn’t willing to give up skating to climb Kilimanjaro, and so with only a mild sting of regret, I declined the invitation.

Interestingly enough, its now 15 years later, and this time around I have reduced my skating as I choose to pursue triathlon training. Interests do wax and wane, and now triathlon offers more of the challenge I am looking for. I still skate a little and enjoy it, but more of my interest and energy is directed towards triathlon.

As I write this article, I am also realizing that my pursuit of medicine as a career limited my pursuit of other interests, writing among them. As I am slowing in my professional life (I have a part time therapy practice), I am pursuing other interests, including writing. I am happy to note that I am now giving myself both encouragement and the opportunity to explore, while also challenging myself to keep checking in to see if my current choices and activities are those that best suit me. To me, this is an amazing gift, this freedom to learn, explore and grow.

4 thoughts on “The Idea vs Reality

  1. I never quite fit the “traditional” medical mold, although I functioned in that realm for many years. The senior partner is our group was often baffled by my recurrent refusal to attend events sponsored by the drug companies. If it was “free” he was in, and I was out, as I didn’t trust their information. Now I really enjoy the freedom to keep learning, growing and evolving without the systemic constraints.

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  2. SO many things fall into that category of “it sounds easier/better than it is”, don’t they?! I feel that way a lot, honestly. I get excited about something and dive in only to realize that the reality of whatever it is, is not what I was expecting. If nothing else, it’s provided some great lessons learned.

    I recall when I was in college learning the concept of “opportunity cost” (in an economics class, I believe) and how it was like a light bulb going off for me… every choice meant *not* choosing any number of other things! Things that might have been better, equal, or worse… you never knew. But I definitely see that even in the running that I do now – it’s most definitely a trade off at times when I’m prioritizing a run over other things.

    I’m still envious of your ice skating! I want to get back out on the ice myself! Need to just pick a Saturday and go do it! 🙂

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    1. “opportunity cost” a new term for me (I know a lot of science and molecular biology, not so much econ–those choices, still and forever). I like it. And one of these days the opportunity to skate will arise and you’ll take it. Have fun!

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