Have you been watching the Olympics?
What about the 400-meter hurdle event that left Javier Culson sobbing on the sidelines?
The Puerto Rican accidentally false started, pushing off a few milliseconds before the rest of the jumpers, best seen in this video at minute 0:40.
False starting is a disqualifying event. Near the end of the video, the gravity and seriousness of his mistake donned on Cuslon. He cried bitterly before slinking off to the sidelines.
It was heartbreaking.
Let’s explore the tragedy of this situation.
Culson, a former bronze medal winner, was a favorite for gold in 2016. He spent years perfecting his technique, beginning as a teenager in the late 1990’s. Since then he has spent hours and hours every single day with his coach, working diligently on his game. He made great sacrifices. Others around him made great sacrifices. Money was spent, time was spent. The morning of the event, he donned his carefully-selected kit, spray glued his numbers on, donned his headband and tied his running shoes.
And yet, he was never able to run.
Had he competed but lost, that would have been a different kind of disappointment, one that might inspire harder work and longer hours. Because of a tiny mistake of overeagerness, he wasn’t able to compete at all. I’m sure he felt cheated. I’m sure he felt embarrassed and confused as to how it happened. I bet he felt the senselessness keenly.
Sometimes we make a mistake based on a senseless miscalculation. We snap at a stranger, we crash our car, we kiss the wrong person at the party. These senseless miscalculations send our lives into a mini nightmare of cascading consequences that appear to have no meaning. We scream, “But I didn’t mean to!” to an indifferent, judgmental and cruel world.
It’s even worse when others were counting on us, when we talked our game up and made ourselves appear invincible, but fell anyway.
The trouble with senseless situations is that it takes herculean courage to try again. When we can’t ascertain meaning into an event, we can get caught in a loop of diminishing returns, eventually leading to impotence.
In order to carry on, we must invent a meaning as to why it happened. We need to identify the problem. Hint: it’s not someone else.
It’s easy to blame the powers that be. The publishing industry is corrupt. The casting director is heartless. The customers are too sensitive. The bureaucracy has stupid rules.
The trouble with blaming the external force is that it leaves us in that trap of learned helplessness. We feel we can never succeed because the system is trying to keep us out. How can one fight meanness, moral corruption, or stupidity? These are abstractions. How can we fight something that has no face?
It takes real guts to admit that you have a problem and spend the required hours/days/months/years to correct it.
It takes courage to compete again.
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