Peterson: Taking off from starting lines more important than reaching finish

Ryan Peterson

Sitting across the table from my friends, I try to keep a calm and composed disposition, but inside I’m panicking. In fewer than 12 hours I’ll be driving to a city I’ve never heard of — and as of now can’t even get to. All I can look forward to is getting lost countless times, backtracking my way through Iowa and cursing the stupid idea of traveling across the state for a marathon. I can only imagine the suffering that will go with each step of the run if I can get myself to the starting line and hold my nerve long enough to begin the race.

Anxiety builds exponentially as each moment before the starting line passes. I tell myself that it’s this way with every new start: the first day of classes, a new relationship, or starting a new goal. Any new point in life can leave you feeling like you’re at the edge of a cliff and about to step off. That starting line quickly becomes the divide between what’s safe and familiar to what’s new and unexpected. The moment of stepping across the line scares the hell out of me, as it does most everyone. As you take that first step, you leave everything behind and begin the uncertain sensation of falling. What makes it all the more frightening is having no idea what you’re falling into or where it will lead.

This is what causes most of us to turn back. Sitting at the table, I wonder, “Why go?” more than a few times. In some instances, such as changing schools or moving, you don’t have a choice; necessity nudges you ever closer until it pushes you over the edge. However, the majority of instances can be approached or avoided by choice. We can choose our relationships, clubs and weekend activities; we can sit at home, safe and comfortable, or enter the world and approach the marathons of life. Even when necessity demands, we can choose between being dragged to the ledge or we can run ahead and jump straight in. The choice focuses on the separation between the uncertainty that staring lines bring and the potential they provide.

I’ve read that the word “crisis” in Chinese can be interpreted one of two ways: either as “danger” or “opportunity.” We tend to focus on the danger, and cling to the familiar; but, in doing so we deprive ourselves. There is greatness in every new starting line of life. It’s a time to reflect, as you’re ‘falling’ you gain a new perspective on the world. You have no idea where it will lead, but the importance is the path it will take you through. It allows you to evaluate your agenda, consider what’s important and find something out about yourself.

Standing at the starting line of the marathon I begin to settle. I stop looking ahead for a finish line and begin looking around me. There’s a runner dressed as Elvis playing his inflated guitar, a few veterans, and even a few college students, scared to death with no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. At this point the finish line doesn’t even matter. What’s important is standing at that line with this group of people, and the thought of running a marathon with Elvis makes me laugh.

Starting lines should be sought out, perused and savored. They are a component to figuring out who and what we are and what’s going on around us. They offer us exciting new journeys filled with people we’d never expect to meet. You don’t have to run to find a starting line. It can be as simple as joining a new club or sitting with a new group of friends; it’s getting yourself out there and exposed that counts. When the fear begins to stir remember the ever-present choice between danger and opportunity. Personally, I’ll take opportunity every time.