Thursday, May 14

Now What?

I realize I went radio silent after running Boston; turns out the chaos of life has inertia that's hard to stop. I fully plan to write a race re-cap, but for now, I figured I'd share this.

The following is a transcript of a speech I've given a couple of different times through Toastmasters. A video of the speech will be posted soon. 

Now What?

I've never really been big into video games. Even when I was younger my "gaming" -- I think is what they call it now -- was always kept pretty minimal. Although I will admit there's one game that will always hold a special place in my heart: Super Mario on Nintendo 64. For those that don't know, the premise of the game involved me, Mario, collecting stars in order to save Princess Peach from an evil turtle named Bowser. Oh c'mon, that doesn't sound awesome? With each star I got, the closer I came to saving Peach. And then one day, after months of diligence, hard work, overcoming adversity, and buff finger muscles you wouldn't even believe, I got the last star and saved the princess. The game was over, Mario and I did it!

As a kid, I was elated. Proud. Heck it felt like an achievement. I had just beaten Super Mario on Nintendo 64! And yet to this day, I can remember amidst all those happy feelings, this nagging sensation. This thought of: Wait, the game is just... over? I navigated through all those levels, achieved all those stars... and that's it? "Now what?" I thought.

As trivial as a Nintendo game may sound, I think there's an underlying theme that existed for nine-year-old me, and that I still think exists today for some of us as adults. This question of "Now what?" can be incredibly important for growth, achievement and personal development. But what I'd like to propose to you tonight is that the question, "Now What?", if asked too often or in the wrong context, can also be dangerous. Let me explain.

Our society reveres hard work and idolizes progress. Many of us at some point or another will set out to achieve a goal, hit a life milestone only to realize that once we get there, often times, it's not enough. We want more. We got the promotion. And as thrilled as we were, we quickly begin to think: "Now what?" We lost 10lbs, and were ecstatic with the results from the diet, but now what? We finished our 10th speech, got our Competent Communicator... now what? We finally finished that project that we'd been putting off for so long... and now what?

Hear me loud and clear: I'm not by any means suggesting that I don't appreciate the principles of hard work, dedication, and determination or that I don't think goals are important. As a matter of fact I think they're incredibly important, I think they're very good things. The problem is, some of us, including myself, have turned these good things into ultimate things.

For the past four years I've been on a quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon. What started as a running passion with my first marathon in 2009 turned into a mission — borderline obsession — to qualify for Boston. Over the course of five years I've run nearly ten marathons and I came so close to qualifying on a number of different occasions... but always fell short. And then one year ago I ran the Houston Marathon in a little over three hours; I did it! That moment of crossing the finish line and hugging my family was precious. It was one of the best feelings I've ever had.

An equally amazing feeling was the day I found out that I was accepted into Boston.  I was elated. Proud. What an achievement, I had just gotten in to the world's most prestigious road race! And yet to this day, I can remember amidst all those happy feelings, that same nagging sensation I had as a kid who had beaten Super Mario.

I ran a qualifying time, I was accepted into Boston and would be running, but I still couldn't help but think: "Now what?"

Come to find out that the reason those moments, those amazing feelings I experienced throughout my journey to Boston, are precious is because they're fleeting. Overwhelmingly intense one minute, and then gone the next.

I've come to learn that the human heart has deep desires we can't fully comprehend. Our desires are much deeper than we realize, they're insatiable. For years Boston distracted me from life problems while at the same time it motivated me, pushed me to succeed. In many ways Boston defined me, it’s where I got my meaning in life. My desire to achieve, to make it to Boston, was, and is still to this day, very real. And I believe that desire to be a good thing. But there was a point in which I realized I had turned it into my ultimate thing. And to have my ultimate thing, my meaning in life, wrapped up in fleeting moments was the reason I had that nagging sensation, that empty feeling that left me asking the question: Now what?

So let me ask you: what are good things in your life that you've turned into ultimate things? And furthermore, can those ultimate things endure the deepest desires of your heart?

Because I tell you, if your life is built on something that can endure, something that isn't fleeting, you'll realize like I have, that Boston is just Boston, the promotion is just a promotion, the 10lbs is just 10lbs. All good things, not ultimate things.

"Now what?" can be a valuable question, no doubt about it, but it can also be a dangerous one if it leads you to dead end. It can be a sign that you've changed good things into ultimate things.

...if I could go back in time to visit 9-year-old me after beating Super Mario, I'd want to tell myself a few things. I'd say, "Brian, there's going to come a day that you're going to give a speech less than three weeks after crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, after a long, 4-year journey to get there. Your natural inclination will be to feel what you just felt, and ask what you just asked -- Now What? But 19 years from now you'll have finally figured out that you don't always have to have an answer to the question, and believe it or not, you'll be happier and more content in life than ever before.

Jessie, me, my Mom & Dad, post-speech

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