First off, I want to apologize to Diane for hijacking the blog. Normally we blog together and present you with funny anecdotes from our unbelievably entertaining lives, but recently I’ve had so many FEELINGS that I am compelled to write on my own and publish my musings for the entire Internet.
I will try to make this post as unsentimental as possible, but no promises. With that being said, here are my thoughts on great achievements:
American society (correctly, in my opinion) glorifies individuals who excel in their fields. We venerate star athletes, visionary artists, and Nobel Prize winners. But while NBC clips might show you the inspirational story of an Olympian who rose to gold after standing by her second cousin’s side in a fight against cancer, these vignettes will miss out on the more mundane sacrifices made by people who accomplish great things: the friendships that languish, the marriage that falls apart, the alternate careers that never were. There is a cost to greatness, and often it’s not tidy enough to fit in a 3 minute TV bio set to inspirational music. (On a side note, the cost of greatness is one reason I love Macklemore’s song “10,000 hours.” Instead of rapping rhapsodic (get it?) about the money and ho’s that come with music success, he describes the hard work behind it all.)
The majority of people who achieve greatness do so because they are utterly obsessed with their work. Scientists who compulsively read papers and stay in the lab at night because there’s nothing else they’d rather being doing have a much higher chance of making big discoveries. Football players who endlessly watch old tapes will make the right calls during a crucial game. (At least I think that’s how it works — I actually know nothing about the sport.)
If I’m honest with myself, I feel this level of obsession more with cycling than with science. I repeatedly envision races that I’ve participated in and those in which I will compete in the future. In my spare time, I read everything about the sport and watch race footage ad nauseum. But when given the chance to take my game to the next level — whether that be participating in the North Star Grand Prix or attending a USA Cycling talent ID camp at the Olympic Training Center, I hesitate. Why? Because as much as cycling is an integral part of my life, I can’t imagine my life without a successful intellectual career or without rich relationships with friends and family.
Right before receiving this invite to the USAC talent ID camp today, I had lunch with an extremely successful professor from Berkeley. He’s a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and his work is breathtaking. Being around people who have made beautiful discoveries is inspiring — but it’s also thought-provoking when you know deep down you’re not working at the level necessary to achieve that degree of success.
So I feel torn between my science and my cycling (as evidenced by the last post). But then there’s a final wrench to throw into it all — the cost of personal relationships that suffer when one is utterly devoted to professional achievement. If I spend all my time outside of lab racing, then I don’t have the flexibility to travel to see friends and family. And on this final topic, I found myself reading today the eulogy my mother wrote for a dear friend who passed away almost two years ago from cancer. My mom accurately described what a phenomenal mother, wife, and friend this woman had been — all while pursuing a stimulating career and travelling the world. I would be honored to live a life that in any way approximated this woman’s. But I just don’t see how being such a well balanced person is compatible with super high levels of sucess and achievement. And that conundrum is what I’ve been pondering all day.