Q: Where does the fish keep him’s money?
A: In the riverbank!!
- Favorite joke of my 3-year-old daughter
Most of us strive to improve ourselves. We like to learn things quickly, then move on to the next task that further expands our expertise.
Athletes spend countless hours practicing skills that will improve their performance. Endurance athletes continually train their bodies to go further or faster than was previously possible.
Everyone tries to get better. It’s part of the human condition.
But what if you don’t want it that way? What if you could slow the development of a natural progression simply because you wanted to delay its inevitable arrival as much as possible? It is permissible to throw a wrench in the learning process?
I sometimes wonder about this in the context of my daughter’s favorite joke.
She’s been telling the riverbank joke since she first learned to talk – as anyone who’s ever had a conversation with her can attest. She still breaks into a fit of laughter after the punch line, the joke carrying just as much amusement each time she tells it.
The mispronunciation – him’s instead of his – has been there since the beginning, also. When we started hearing it on a regular basis, the joke triggered a few exchanges between my wife and I like the following:
Me: It’s funny how she says “him’s.”
Her: Should we tell her the right way to say it?
Me: Nah … she’ll figure it out soon enough on her own. Besides, it's much cuter this way.
There’s a certain charm to the learning process that’s only available one time for any given task. Once it passes, the accomplishment is tossed onto the pile of all those other things accumulated over the course of a lifetime. Adding on your fingers is no longer cute once you can do math in your head. Memorizing a spelling list isn’t impressive once you start writing essays. What was once remarkable becomes routine, and eventually taken for granted.
For endurance athletes, athletic accomplishments often suffer the same fate as childhood milestones: they are celebrated only briefly before giving way to a more ambitious task. Finishing a 5K isn’t such a huge accomplishment after you’ve done a half-marathon. Olympic-distance triathlons don’t seem so daunting once you’ve finished an Ironman. Each achievement becomes a stepping stone for something grander, with its own merit overshadowed by what lies beyond.
There’s a danger in this, of course. We can’t constantly move towards bigger and more challenging tasks without sacrificing a lot of other things to get there. We may become obsessed with a perceived need for accomplishment, and miss the satisfaction that each smaller goal should bring. And even if you eventually do every Ironman or climb every mountain – then what? Life can become a fruitless chase to find happiness from accomplishments of increasingly questionable significance.
On the other hand, the allure of the first-time goal is unmistakable. The apprehension of venturing into unfamiliar terrain, the stumbling trial-and-error nature of progress, and the uncertainty of success are an intoxicating combination. We spend enormous amounts of time focused on the task, and analyzing every step of the journey that gets us there.
(And if you need further evidence - think of how many “first marathon” or “first Ironman” blogs are out there. Can you recall anyone writing something like “This is my 5th marathon, and it’s the scariest and most exciting thing I’ve ever done!” Me neither.)
I’m as guilty of this tendency as anybody else, which is the primary reason my name is in the Western States goblet this month. It’s also the reason I’ll probably look for another 100-miler to do next year if my name isn’t picked in the lottery on December 1st.
I’ve never run 100 miles - but I want to figure out how to do it. I want to experience the magic and mystery of doing something for the first time, and accomplish something that seemed unattainable several years ago.
However, I want to be careful not to disregard all of the training it will take me to get there, or miss out on the pleasure of the learning process – a fact I was reminded of after my daughter and I recently had this conversation:
Her: Hey, Dad … where does the fish keep his money?
Me: Wait … what did you say? I’m not sure I heard that right.
Her: Where does the fish keep his money?
Me: Oh, OK … Where?
Her: In the riverbank!! Isn’t that funny?
As you can guess, the exchange for me was something other than funny. Despite my efforts, it appears that my baby girl is moving on with her life. She knows the right way to say “his”, and next week, she won’t even be a 3-year-old anymore. Just like that, it’s done. But I never want to forget how cute it was for my daughter to say “him’s” during her favorite joke.
Likewise, that’s my informal goal for 2008 – not simply to achieve the 100-mile task, but to remember the process that gets me to the start line. And since I happen to have this space to document it, I’ll try to share as much of the journey as I can along the way.
Because just like that, it may be done. And I never want to forget those feelings once I move on with my life.
November 16, 2007
Q: Where does the fish keep him’s money?