Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Costume Change

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts, . . . "

The greyhound puppy does not walk around the house quoting Shakespeare, but she made me think about my multiple roles yesterday. I came home from my day job wearing my work clothes--an uberconservative dark suit, white shirt, tie, dress shoes, pocket square, cuff links, etc. Her best friend from down the block wondered where I had been in all this finery, and the puppy noted my profession and called me a "Cog" -- as in one of the lawyer villains in Disney's online "Toon Town" game.
"I'm not a cog," I thought. "I'm a triathlete." The truth is I'm a lot of different things. I'm a lawyer, a cog, a dad, husband, an introvert, a teacher, a friend, a recluse, a crumudgeon, a musician, and a triathlete. I began to wonder, are all these just costumes I put on, parts I play, or is there some "me-ness" that persists no matter which costume I don.
I don't think I have solved this question, but as I thought about it, I noticed something Ironic. The roles in which I have shown some level of excellence have been less than fulfilling and I tend not to define myself by them.
For example, notwithstanding freakishly high grades, bar exam scores and success in my profesison, I do not like to define myself as a lawyer when I look in the mirror. There is no joy in that role. In fact, it often alienates me from others. None of the suburban YMCA dads are lawyers, and their eyes glaze over when I proceed to answer questions about what I do. My academic prowess is (and was) similarly joyless. Something about being called "Dr. Spock" and "brainiac" from age 7 will suck the joy out of something you're good at.
In contrast, I am no better (and often worse) than middle of the pack when it comes to endurance sport; yet here, there is joy. Real, running-on-the-playground-last-man-standing-in-dodgeball joy. Why? Perhaps the personal autonomy felt in shaping one's own physical destiny? Perhaps the positive feedback and admiration of athletic friends? Perahps knowing the secret world that exists during pre-dawn workouts while the roads are quiet and the truly average sleep.
A large part is undoubtedly that a relatively introverted law nerd like me has made young and athletic friends at a time in life where middle-aged relationships become suffocatingly routine, professional, mercinary and predictable. It is like being young again--or for someone like me that was essentially "born old," like being young for the first time. If this is all it is, however, I am in trouble.
Who am I trying to please with all this training? Myself? Training partners? Friends? If I lost these new friends, the hole would be huge. But, would the hole that remained be too large? Would I keep going? Is the triathlete really "me"? If no one is watching but me, will I still train? If I am the only one on the course and no one but me is putting my feet one in front of the other, do I keep going? Or is this, too, just a costume, a role, and a farce?


Jessi said...

Wow, Greyhound. Great post. As a newbie, I often wonder what it is about triathlon that's drawing me in...

Veeg said...

It must be an introspective time of year. Or maybe it's just the nature of the sport.

I understand exactly what you mean about not really finding joy in defining yourself by the things at which you excel. I think there's something in there about living up to (finding out?) your potential.

Rachel said...

It's a good question. How do we define ourselves? Definitely not by what we do. I think our hobbies b/c they are our passions. Our family, our friends. How we want to spend our time. I would much rather call myself a triathlete than a scientist (although I'm not sure I'm very good at either but, who cares?)

Spence said...

I struggle with this too - I guess I call it self-accountability. I'm so much more committed when I have to report to someone else but I'd really like for my tri training to be completely self driven. I'm not there yet but I figure if I'm still going thru the motions to get it all done, the end result is almost the same. Someday I think I'll be able to answer only to myself. Until then, it works for me to pretend!! I don't think there's anything wrong with "wearing it as a costume" for awhile... sometimes you have to try out different things before they become a part of YOU - something you want for YOU - regardless of who is watching. You'll get there!

Iron Pol said...

When we find ourselves at (or near) the top of our game, there is little to be found by way of joy from major improvements. As a lawyer, you can succeed and do well.

As a triathlete, you have much more room for improvement. There are many who are way ahead of you.

I find myself in the same boat. Running and swimming aren't really exciting activities, for me. The challenge for improvement is the driving factor. I love a good challenge, and dragging my body 26.2 miles in less than 4 hours is a HUGE challenge.