As a freshman and sophomore in high school, I ran on the track team. I started late my first year, which meant that my goals that year were to simply not be the last one to cross the finish line. Occasionally, I succeeded. This made me determined to push myself harder as a sophomore.
And I did, and it was hard! It seemed like practice was so much harder my second year than the year before. Some days, the practice plan that coach had laid out for us didn't seem too daunting, but then he would change it half-way through and add an extra half mile or so of sprinting. I remember telling him one day that he was a liar for changing the plan half-way through. He replied, "I'm not a liar, I'm a coach. Go run."
For most of the season, I was mad at him. Partially because he would change the practice plan, and partially because he made me run every distance race at track meets. Which wasn't too bad, except for my least favorite event - 2 mile run. Which almost always came first.
One day, our bus pulled up to the track five minutes before the 2 mile run began which gave us no time to warm up and barely any time to stretch. Still, we ran. And I was so angry. That same meet, we ran a 4 by 800 m relay, where four people each ran a half-mile. Coach put me in charge of getting a team together, and it took the whole meet to coerce my teammates to run it with me. No one wanted to do an extra race. We came in last.
That day, I ran the 2 mile race, 1 mile, half-mile, and the 4 by 800 m relay. That's 4 miles at race pace. I was tired and resentful. For some reason I didn't understand, my coach wanted me to run all of the races. It was hard, because you have to pace yourself on the ones that aren't your mail goal. If I were to run full out on the 2 mile race - which was usually first - I would probably end up last in every other race that I ran.
The other day, I was thinking about this. It's been years since I ran a race like this. As a junior and senior in high school, I stopped running track so that I could start taking private lessons for violin. I haven't really thought about Coach's methods very much since then.
What he was teaching me about racing was something that I needed to know about life.
First of all, I need to be willing to work hard. Most days, practice wasn't fun. I didn't go home afterwards thinking, "Wow. That was really nice. I hope we do that again tomorrow." But it was harder because I was pushing myself harder. In fact one day, I almost passed out after a hard practice where we ran short, but steep distances up a hill over and over again. I was making myself run as hard as I could, because I had a goal - cross the finish line before at least half the people in the race. It wasn't a super goal, but it was mine, and I was going to accomplish it.
Second, and maybe more important than the first lesson, was to prioritize. As a freshman in college, I wanted to do my best in everything. I wanted to get the best grades in all my classes, do my best at work, be the best roommate, be the best friend, etc. I had heard some stupid motivational talk about how if you do something, do your best at it.
What this person didn't explain is that I can't physically or mentally be my best in everything. I just can't. That doesn't mean that I can' do a good job at things, but if I try to run full speed in every aspect of my life, I'm going to get burnt out. And when I get burnt out, I shut down and can barely do anything at all. Prioritize, pick the most important thing and run as hard as you can there. On the things that fall below this level of importance, still do them. When I begged coach to actually let me not run my 2 mile race, I always felt unfinished. I was tired, yes, but I had enough energy and time to do it. Not running it was worse than running it, because I felt like a failure for not doing it.
What is my "favorite race"? What is my top priority that I am going to do my best in? What things need to fall down to the level of "the 2 mile race", and that I simply need to get done but not worry about?
I'm learning that these things can change daily. Some days, I need to work hard on my homework, either to study for a test or to write a big paper. On those days, dishes, laundry, and sometimes even classes are my "2 mile race". Some days, I need to focus on myself and doing the things that I love. Sometimes I need to focus on dishes and laundry.
My top priority never really changes, though. Building and maintaining my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will always be more important than anything else. Loving and serving my husband is just below that. When I let these things become a lower priority, I start to struggle in balancing my life. When I have them as most important and I am working hard, everything falls into place.
As much as I resented him, I am so grateful for a coach who understood what I needed more than I did and pushed me to help me be stronger. I challenge you to consider your priorities, and what races you are putting your best effort into. If it's not a priority now, I urge you to build a relationship with God and ask if He is there. Prayer has been a life changer for me, and I hope that it can be for you as well.