“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”
– Thomas Edison …
Remember when you were a kid flying down the street as fast as your dirt bike would propel you? How about on the swing set, pumping your legs madly, targeting angle and timing for maximum lift until you felt like you would fly over the overhead bar? What about that sheer thrill of legs going so fast they almost felt like they were coming loose as you chased your friends (or were chased) down a trail? As kids we were an unrelenting ball of will, every moment looking to test boundaries, defy limits, overturn physics. We were in love with speed and heights and adventure, yes, but I think we were amazed by all of our own capabilities – the new (and ever enhanced) capacities we were always discovering. Decades beyond those wild days of youth, we’re still each in possession of an amazing human body. We each still hold untold genetic potential – potential that, as the Edison quote suggests, would astound us. The question is, what do we do with this potential? Do we chase it down with the same fervor of our 10-year-old selves? Do we put it on the mental back burner in the name of adult responsibilities? Have we simply forgotten about it – or given up on it entirely?
We go to the gym perhaps. Maybe we bike to work or get our 10,000 steps in each day. We get out for a hike every couple weeks during the milder seasons. Some of us perhaps struggle to meet any, let alone all, of these tasks. Either way, the question of potential – genuine, raw, lofty potential lingers. Do we ever wonder what we’d be capable of if we tried? Maybe from time to time we think of what we might “look like” if we went all out in the healthy living routine and really pushed our workouts. I have nothing against vanity, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about physical achievement – seriously challenging ourselves. Maybe once upon a grade in high school or college, we were at the top of whatever game, but who wants to live feeling like their potential is old news, a memory in a yearbook? Living our physical capacity shouldn’t be just a blip in our biographies.
It seems like we’ve delegated physical pursuit in our culture. We’re much more inclined to watch athletes instead of become them. We’ll spend hours watching sporting events on a screen or in the stands but come up with every excuse in the book to not bother starting even a pickup game of our own. We revel in analyzing the minutiae of total strangers’ performances but never venture our own attempts. Content with experiencing that level of physical exertion and development vicariously through a satellite feed, we become more sedentary and detached from our own physical selves. We forgo and often forget what it means to move, to push our bodies, to come up against our own limits, let alone extend them through discipline and ambition.
It seems like a waste – to never know what it means to fully thrive in our bodies. What would it feel like to be strong, to be swift, to be graceful, to be in the “zone.” How would you feel differently about your life, yourself?
I love the idea of coming to the end of my abilities. There’s something immensely thrilling and therapeutic to it. Of course I’m always back for more, to push the envelope further, but I love not knowing if I can do something and attempting it anyway. Will we be happy, settled, satisfied if we make our way through life without testing ourselves, without taking life for the ultimate ride? Time, of course, is no excuse. As we get older, we too often feel like our lives contract. There’s a certain wisdom to that – realizing you don’t need to learn 8 foreign languages or be a professional soccer player to be the person you can and want to be. Nonetheless, how much do we miss by letting our physical potential languish – to never push the outer edges of it, to never inhabit our bodies fully enough to see their potential realized?
I’m not recommending people give up all their free time to suddenly pursue extreme training. Nor am I suggesting getting on the chronic cardio track. If you’re wired and inclined that way, I get it. Do it and enjoy. If you’re not wired that way or so inclined, by all means, don’t! That said, discover an endeavor that would inspire you to push yourself, to achieve something you’d enjoy and be proud of. That doesn’t mean what will get you the most recognition or what you think others commonly do. Think for a minute what ultimate vitality would mean for you. What would it look like in your life? How would reaching and experiencing your potential figure into that?
Honestly, I think that’s half the fun of it – deciding what physical goal or adventure you want to go after based on your interests and personality. Maybe it’s climbing a mountain or getting a black belt in a martial art. Maybe it’s competitive dancing or reaching the level of personal investment and physical ability in yoga. Perhaps it’s doing a Tough Mudder run or competing in something like a community sports league or CrossFit regionals. On the other hand, maybe it’s cycling across the U.S. or running that marathon. Maybe for right now it’s signing up for your first 5K. It all starts somewhere. Wherever your personal passion and your physical goals intersect, maybe that’s where you should head.
Because this life goes fast. In the midst of all the daily chaos and commutes, the work and errands, we remember to mow the lawn but too often forget to fulfill the deeper, less obvious possibilities of our human lives. We forget to explore and stretch the boundaries of our experience – like we did as children. We deserve to enjoy our bodies and revel in their full capacities – to discover the capacities and nuances of their performance. We deserve to live our lives astounded by ourselves.