Running on Empty

Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 19:42

There are few things more embarrassing for a teenager than having to call your mom to come rescue you. However, there I was on the side of Route 5, my car completely out of gas. Had I just taken 5 minutes before I left Amsterdam, I could have made it home without issue. But through a combination of overconfidence (e.g. "I have plenty in the tank to make it home") and being oblivious (e.g. "Oh shit! I didn't see the gauge drop below E"), I found myself having to waste a good hour waiting to get picked up and then having to suffer through the ensuing jokes.

This was certainly not the first an only instance of doing something of this nature. Nearly a decade later, I was competing at an alumni meet at MIT. The 4x200 meter relay was the last event of the day, and it also was the 10th event that I competed in. Despite a lot of great performances, my body was tapped out. I started to cramp at the 100 meter mark and in the last 40 meters, despite having all the intention of finishing the race, my muscles cramped and I literally couldn't stand up. Again, my mom got to witness the experience from the stands, but this time I was laughing so hard at the ridiculousness of the situation to care.

In both cases, there was a combination of pushing boundaries, warning signs, and the ability to change course before the situation reached an inevitable stopping point. However, despite having these experiences and the clear lessons they provide, I continue to push myself to these limits on regular basis. It's not that I'm stupid or unaware of the benefits of more rest and recovery in achieving peak performance. It's more a stubbornness or an unwillingness to accept these limitations. After all, the flip side is that sometimes you actually have more in the tank than you realize, and putting everything you have into what you're doing is the only way to find that out.

While it sucks to occasionally run out of gas, I'll continue to push my boundaries. How else will I figure out what I'm truly capable of? How else will I know if I can't make it to that next milestone or destination by playing it safe and stopping short?

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.