Success Is Not Unnatural


There are few things that annoy me quite like when people hear I’m training for a marathon and make comments like, “Well, people aren’t meant to run marathons.”

Yeah, you’re right. People aren’t meant to run marathons. They’re meant to run a shitload more.

Our ancestors once hunted down animals by running them into exhaustion. This could last days — days — spanning miles upon miles upon miles. Most believe that the only reason why we sweat is because we hunted in this fashion. Endurance running is the one physical trait human beings have over the rest of the animal kingdom.

Some point to the fact that the messenger in Marathon, Greece, died after declaring victory (or at least that’s how the legend goes). I say: if the messenger did actually die, it was most likely due to dehydration or heat exhaustion. And in a world of Gatorade and breathable running clothes, this is less than an issue now.

I hate it because it gives people a type of false out. If you’re looking for an excuse, say you don’t have the time. Say you have bad joints. Say you just don’t care about running, or running for that long. Go right ahead. Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Marathon training takes a lot of time and work and care and mental effort. It’s not easy. Saying that it’s not personally worth risking injury to do it is a perfectly okay and honest out.

But to say that it’s unnatural is not only false, but it makes it sound like the people who marathon train are somehow in the wrong. Like marathon runners are on par with mad scientists, trying to do what can’t and shouldn’t be done.

The reason why it’s a huge pet peeve of mine is because I see this everywhere. Not just in running. People try to dismiss anyone’s hard work — runner or otherwise – as unnatural. Pretending like any achievement is an aberration. Because it’s easier to act like making the grade, or starting a company, or writing a book, is abnormal. It’s easier to act like this than it is to admit that anything of worth takes hard work. Hard work and sacrifice and a touch of risk.

Success requires a bit of luck, but it also requires ingenuity and relentless drive. I wasn’t naturally born with such a drive, and I wasn’t brought up with a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. But I force myself forward because the alternative is nothing I want to be a part of.

People still dismiss the idea, saying how rare success can be. But how are you defining “success”? Is the runner who completed a marathon without stopping unsuccessful because he wasn’t in the Top 10 (or Top 100) runners? Is the artist who completed his most important piece of work unsuccessful because the art galleries turned him down? Is the person who left a guaranteed (but soul-crushing) job unsuccessful because her start-up hasn’t made millions yet? Are we really going to be so naïve as to think that, if we aren’t guaranteed the upper echelons of success, it’s not worth doing in the first place?

The older you get, the more you find yourself around people who are perfectly okay with mediocrity. People who stay in jobs they hate, or in relationships that are unsatisfying or even toxic, never challenging themselves, always backing away when things get a little too tough. And from that cesspool comes a perverted pro-mediocrity stance. People who are so defensive of the status quo that they have no qualms about sitting back and making excuses and even deriding others for actually getting shit done.

But what does that do, aside from tiring out your vocal cords? Dismissing entrepreneurs won’t make your job better. Mocking academic people won’t make you smarter. Dismissing artists won’t make you more creative. And criticizing runners won’t get you in better shape. Go out and do shit.