With the back half of the triathlon season quickly approaching, I find myself in a situation I never expected, with my race calendar empty for the entirety of 2013’s next six months and empty of results from the last six. In my results and rankings section, a tab for 2013 doesn’t even exist. I did not disappear. I am not burned out. I did not plan this. I am not injured or tired. I love the sport of triathlon just as much as ever. I am not any busier than normal, and nor more broke than normal. I have access to adequate training and facilities. So why has this calendar been littered with work schedules and due dates rather than training plans and race dates?
Throughout my triathlon career, I rarely received any disapproval of my pursuit. Nearly everyone was supportive with very little skepticism. And I don’t think I gave them any reason to believe otherwise. I showed my work ethic, my unrelenting tolerance for pain, my commitment to a training plan, my tactical savviness, and my wisdom and patience. I never made it to the big leagues but steady improvement was certainly there and would have surely led me to a goal I once possessed. But every year I had doubts about my pursuit. These doubts were realistic and powerful. I wondered what the worth to such a committed one-track lifestyle was. Since my senior year of high school I have questioned absolutely everything. And of course up there was the personalized, seemingly unanswerable question of the meaning of life. In high school I adopted the life purpose of making a name for myself. I jested that I wanted a Wikipedia article about me. At 5’6″ and all three inches of vertical leap, basketball certainly wouldn’t be my vector. My success in academics wasn’t much more to brag about. But get my little short ass out going in a straight line quickly for a long time and not many others could keep up. Everyone knew that too. It wasn’t a secret and no one shunned my desire to use triathlon as the vector through which I would obtain that fame and that Wikipedia article.
A little part of me wasn’t satisfied with this though. Even in my most committed seasons, I deceived myself to pull the strength that I showed in my most disinterested moments. At my death, sure, there would be a Wikipedia article. I would have beaten myself, driven to lengthen that list of accolades and triumphs, dedicated my one and only life to this desire to be remembered after I die. While the article would be great to show my kids and grand kids, at the end of all this, that article will sink with humanity and will be no more than a blip in the vast inevitably dissolving internet. I would not be remembered, despite my greatest efforts and delusions.
Remembrance surely could not be the purpose then. In a mandatory senior speech to the entire school I openly pondered these questions to great length but admittedly with no answer. But now, I, possibly naively, claim that I have a satisfying answer to the seemingly unanswerable question. I broke the question down from my limited life experience at the time. After witnessing the self-destruction of a pleasure seeking lifestyle, at least the ones that I witnessed, I quickly and possibly wrongly dismissed that. Brute physical pleasures seemed unattractive as demonstrated by the alcoholics, drug addicts, sexaholics, and other people relegated to a life of disgust and unhealthy habit. So I proposed changing the world. All the great reformers are never remembered as sad, pessimistic, lonely people. They made it their goal to fix a broken humanity and their lives seem to be worthy. But I thought, all their changes would dissolve at the end of this. It seemed nothing could persist beyond the confines of our universe. It was meaningless to me to make it my purpose to alter a world than would crumble and dissolve, no matter how righteous that pursuit may be.
While in high school, the answer was just out of my reach. But last year at a bonfire at a friend’s house, my persistent dissatisfaction with the material, superficial answers I had once taken for granted led me to a realization. The answer must be intangible. This may seem obvious but it wasn’t to me. I wanted so badly for their to be a cosmological purpose, to alter the course of something in this universe and it actually mean something to me. But inevitably it was undeniably trivial on a cosmological scale, no matter how large an effect I may have.
While this may seem morbid, it opened up the door for a chain of amazing realizations. I did not need to pursue a career in triathlon because it really, truly did not matter. To pursue something simply because I was good at it was misguided inspiration. My confidence with a career in medicine became much more justifiable. I was not the best student nor did I have any background in the field. It was completely foreign to me but the desire to fix broken people was much more enticing then being an entertainer in a struggling athletic arena. But surely their cured ailments would arise again and these people would die alongside me and my work would be just as fleeting.
So why did this pursuit stand out from athletics or any other goal? I began to reflect on my rapid dismissal of pleasure as a worthy life goal. Pleasure is an intangible thing. It does not persist at the end of the universe but it does not truly exist anyways. It is not limited to the universes physical confines. I am not saying it is supernatural, I am just saying it simply does not exist to begin with. It is an observation, while an observation that can be charted with flooding hormones and firing synapses, it is an observation nonetheless. But a life solely seeking pleasure seemed myopic to me. The alcoholic seemed no closer to discovering a true purpose than the masochist. Narrowly channeled lifestyles seemed to be missing the point. I realized that I should not shun a sampling of pleasure and a dabbling of suffering, a taste of silence and a party of cacophony, a bit of laziness and a feel for diligence, but should feel sympathetic towards a poorly defined quest for one of those in totality. I am critical of the life of a college partier just as much as I am of the pale academic bound to the confines of the library’s quiet floor. I fear the risks of temptation of both, of satisfaction with a deluded answer.
So my enjoyment of triathlon has not faded, nor has my love of the sport. I have simply realized that there is more to this universe than the suffering and the beating other people. I have practiced the persistent meditative aspect of the sport daily, without the need for public competition. While I have not adopted the life of a pleasure seeker, I feel my world is much more balanced now, drifting away from the masochist I once was.
The reality is, there is no purpose to life; there are only our observations. We are free to define whatever purpose we want but in the cosmological scheme; it truly does not matter. So I guess I can say that my purpose is not to change the world or to twiddle my thumbs as a bystander, nor to conquer my temptation or to completely succumb to it. There are infinitely many different routes and I have no intentions of following just one. To contradict Frost’s philosophy, I’m going to take the road most traveled as well, because it may have something equally rewarding to offer. But I’d be mistaken if I thought there were only two roads and I only had a choice of one. My choice to follow a career in medicine allows me the option to make many, many observations. So while I guess I have defined my purpose as to make observations, recognizing that our decisions and actions are neither our own nor impactful, I would like to apply that purpose to the reality of our predicament. I am inclined to say that all of our purposes are simply to make observations. Those are the only thing we can lay claim to in this universe. They provide us with the joy of everyday life, as much as we delude ourselves into believing that experience stems from elsewhere. It truly does not matter how anyone else defines their purpose, whether metaphysical or physical. They are free to do so but whatever delusions, they still result in observations. So there it is, the meaning of life is to observe. That is my most meaningful and satisfying answer yet. And I do believe I’ll say with confidence that this has been my most successful season so far.