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What is a Calling?


My first day back at the gym after the New Year, my coach had me finish out my session with 20 burpees, and then 20 push ups. When I finished he said, "Okay, now 21 burpees, then 21 push ups..." (blank stare from me--I thought we were done) "Get it?" he said. "2021!" Ahhh... very clever. He then offhandedly said that he had thought about emailing me and having me do 2021 burpees in a week, but I already had a big week on the books, so he decided not to do that. 2021 burpees. That's two thousand and twenty one burpees in one week. As soon as he said it I could feel it was a done deal. Excitement and dread, all in one fell swoop. I had to do it. It called to me.

What is a calling? It's defined as: a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation. Okay...what is a vocation? a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, especially : a divine call...So, call me dramatic, but given those definitions, I am called to be an athlete. Yep, weird. I'm 53 years old. I've only been at this a little over 4 years. I'm a total head case when I run. And my athletic intelligence is maybe at about an eighth or ninth grade level. Oh, and seriously, objectively, I'm average, at best. So, why am I driven to do this? I don't know. It's sort of like being in love: I want to know everything about everything in running and fitness. Numbers, data, watches...headlamps, shoes, heart rate monitors...books, podcasts, races, websites, magazines, other runners...How do you run fast? What are fast twitch muscle fibers? Do I have any of those? Did I ever have any of those? Why are time trials important? Why do you have easy run days? What does rest do? Why do you put the weights on the bar like that? Can we see how long I can hold a plank? What can you deadlift? I can feel obsessed, and exhausted and elated and jealous...and it inspires writing. That sounds like love to me. Or a calling. It sounds like a strong urge toward a particular way of life...a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action: a divine call.

I'm beginning to understand that I don't need to question it, or try and figure out why. It doesn't have to make me money or line up with a career. I just need to offer out a big thank you for having a calling at all, and then literally run with it. I'm not called to be an athlete because I'm good at it, I'm called to be an athlete because there's a purpose in it.

As for those burpees...I texted my coach later that day to say I was taking on the two thousand and twenty one burpees in a week challenge. We set the parameters, and I made a plan: 289 burpees per day for 7 days, to be completed on January 12th, 2021 by 11:59pm. There were hiccups along the way, but I learned a lot. I learned about making a plan, pacing myself, and being flexible. I learned about how exciting it is to have a big challenge, and then how mundane it is to do the work of seeing it through. I learned about what happens when you put things off, and I learned how to run interference with that voice that tries to find a way out. And I learned about what it means to show up for yourself, even when you're melting down like a toddler in your living room with the last 90 burpees to go, and no one can see you, and no one is making you do this, but you finish what you started for you.

But most importantly I learned, once again, about how I have more in me than I know. I mean, much more in me than I know. More and more and more and more. We all do. And I don't know about you, but I made a habit of selling myself short. Until this athletic calling--the same calling I have heard off and on my whole life, by the way--took charge to teach me about my life. I guess our calling doesn't always make sense from the outside looking in. It often doesn't make sense from the inside looking out. But like Winston Churchill said: "Never give up on anything you can't go a day without thinking about." Because it just might be your calling.