When I first started running five years ago, I was inexperienced to say the least. Half a mile was exhausting, a mile was worse than a prison sentence, and anything more than two miles made me regret exiting my mother’s womb. Despite such an evident aversion of the sport, I decided to try out for my middle school track team and to no one’s surprise, I didn’t make it. They tell you Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team and first of all, I’d like to get that fact-checked. But secondly, that anecdote isn’t nearly as comforting as some would think. Bouncing back from the loss, my mom recommended that I sign up and train for a half marathon that was three months away and my naïve, seventh grade self excitedly agreed to the challenge. I printed out a training plan and followed it diligently, and come race day, I earned second place in my age group. When eighth grade rolled around, I tried out for the track team again and this time, I did make it. And while a lot of people are scared of sharks or spiders or getting buried alive, I came to realize that what I fear most is stagnancy.
At this day and age, settling for mediocrity has become second nature. When I cut corners in my classes in exchange for more free time that I can spend watching a movie or scrolling through Twitter yet again, I’m settling. When I let deadlines get the best of me and make excuses for how busy I am, I’m settling. When I knowingly and deliberately waste my time, it loses its value altogether, and I’m settling. What’s alarming is that I recognize that this is an issue, yet it continues to happen. Even more alarming, however, are the people who don’t realize that the obsession with maintaining a Snapchat streak or choosing the perfect Instagram filter is, however simple, a form of settling. It’s settling for superficiality over substance, and it has become the new norm.
I tend to take rejection personally. When scholarship interviewers don’t select me, I no longer want to end up at their schools. If they don’t recognize my hard work and talent, why should I validate their prestige and reputation? On a more positive note, rejection also inspires action. When my coach didn’t pick me, I couldn’t wait to prove him wrong. If he had allowed me to barely skim through and make the team, I wouldn’t take running half as seriously as I do and I would have never risen to the challenge. I thought myself incapable of completing a half marathon until I felt the need to prove that I could. Though disheartening, rejection often combats stagnancy.
Inadequacy and dismissal are not necessary steps to achievement, though. One of the easiest ways to prevent stagnancy is to find passion. Anything that incites curiosity or excitement is bound to inspire action, and it’s hard to set aside or step away from a subject that captivates. The hardest part of finding a passion is identifying it. What I have found especially uplifting is that passion and productivity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Working with kids, for example, is an activity that I find both enjoyable and meaningful. For some, passion can be found in art; for others, in travel. It won’t be found scrolling through Instagram, or by winging a test. Similarly, stagnancy won’t be defeated by lying on the couch or watching another episode on Netflix. Preventing stagnancy means learning to live beyond the confines of a hollow, inescapable reality and using disappointment as motivation.
Limited or lack of ability is what I fear the most at this point in my life. I believe that we were each created to fill a certain void and accomplish specific goals that best match our respective abilities. The world as I see it becomes a better place when our individual efforts intertwine and take everyone a step forward. My biggest fear then becomes any issue that may get in the way of my contribution to this magnificent big picture.
Reading glasses are the mildest indicators of how physical abilities change with age, curbing what we can do in certain ways. I look ahead and hope to continue caring for myself and for those around me for as long as I live. Things seem a bit brighter when I think that every passing year should also bring more wisdom and added experience. My body may need to slow down but I am determined to maintain an active mind and a vibrant heart; and that is quite comforting.
Even scary physical challenges and limitations can be blessings in disguise. Looking back on my brush with cancer a few years ago, I can see how the experience added a lot of value to every passing moment, and shed a new light on various relationships. My energy may have been reduced, but I enjoyed deeper thoughts and stronger emotions nonetheless.
My tricky memory and occasional need to focus on one task at a time are simple reminders of how lucky I am to maintain strong mental faculties. I fear a time that inhibits my ability to connect with my surroundings and contribute to them. As I train myself to maintain a mild temperament and a positive disposition, I pray that they become constant habits and natural spontaneities in the years to come.
Psychological limitations are also daunting to me. Emotional exhaustion shuts me down and getting too tired of a situation or too puzzled by a dilemma can significantly reduce my drive and compromise my focus. It helps me when I counter the negativity that drains the energy with a positive attitude that inspires and motivates. Faith prompts me to remain optimistic, and good company minimizes distractions and helps me with catching and correcting mistakes.
I consider myself privileged, and with that comes a fear of apathy, laziness, and selfishness as they make life shallow and worthless. I hope to always remain connected with others, sharing their joy and feeling their pain. I also vow to keep busy and hopeful because people tend to be wasteful when they get bored and act foolishly when they feel desperate; two monsters I work to evade.
My ultimate fear is that of restrictions on my freedoms. With a heavy heart, I think of my loved ones living under the ruthless coup that overtook Egypt more than two years ago. Some voices, yearning to speak the truth, are permanently silenced as the oppressive regime kills without hesitation. Other voices speaking the truth, seeking freedom, demanding equality and striving for justice are muffled by prison sentences, torture, and intimidation. I fear a day when such basic rights are no longer among the goals that I have accomplished by moving to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The suffering of my loved ones did not seem too far away when the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Wednesday 02/24/2016 calling on the State Department to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. My heart sank as I asked myself, “Will there come a day when I will have to hide my respect and admiration for those who taught me most of what I know?” “Will I need to dodge the question if asked about the foundation of my values and the source of my work ethic?” “Will I see the day when hate and ignorance intimidate my thoughts and censorship restricts my expression?”