It’s a silly, simple question.
No, it’s more than that.
It’s a question that has tugged at my mind, manipulated my intentions, and directed my actions for a long time. I’m not here to crowd-please or coddle the spaces of others, but the curious question has given relation to people I might not even like (or more often, people I do like) and my code of habits and efforts. It has taken me across 100-mile finish lines and influenced huge life choices.
It’s a question you’ve heard and asked before (probably).
Are you following me?
It is paramount that a person develops, or acknowledges the need to develop, a code of habits and efforts – the laws of your feet, hands, and tongue – to lean on in uncertain, stressful, or hostile situations. Your code structures work and play, family time and socializing.
Without this code, it is unlikely that you will find yourself on the positive end of the question. In fact, if you are currently on the negative end of the question (and it couldn’t hurt to ask an honest friend), your life is not what it could be.
The question is this:
“If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want with you?”
You’ve been asked that before, right?
That question is wrapped tightly around my mind, and I am certain it has influenced my life in a massive, positive way.
Are you on the positive end of it?
This isn’t an appeal for agreeableness and I’m not asking you to soften up and be a pushover.
It’s more like this:
“Are you the dependable, strong, patient, intentional person?”
It’s not nodding and smiling during disagreements. It’s not sheepishly accepting disrespect. It’s not moving aside for every other pedestrian or motorist. Nor is it eccentric, dim-witted, people-pleasing to maintain a social or cultural norm.
It is a code. Your code. Our code.
The code of those who seek to lead and inspire, to bear some burden, and to venture into the unknown. It is the code of those who accept life’s mischief and refuse to be beaten down by it.
Developing such a code (and you ought to develop one) is simple. It’s an integration of your personalities into some dependable, strong, patient, intentional being. Let the dependability flow from your family or work life, the strength from the hours under a barbell or climbing mountain switchbacks, the patience from your financial goals, and the intentional action from your passions.
On the island, that desolate, hot, sun-scorched rock floating in shark-infested waters, dependability is good work done well and fast.
Strength is beneficial manipulation of the environment.
Patience is sacrifice; abstain now for longevity of order.
Being intentional is using concise and deliberate speech and action to meet an ideal.
These definitions fit life, too.
The question of your island companionship is really the question of who would be the greatest ally in life’s mischief.
And life’s mischief stands just outside your door, eager to tear down pursuit and adventure, to sink a person’s legs into the concrete of normalcy.
Don’t leave your reactions and words to chance.
Life’s mischief can look like this: You’re having a great day: your morning run went smooth, you stretched, took the dog for a walk, and now you’re sipping hot coffee in morning traffic. It’s chilly outside, but the sun is shining strong.
This is going to be a great day.
You’re early to work and get a head start on the day’s happenings. Oh, and you just realized it’s Friday.
Outside, a customer parks his car and saunters in. His name is Lionel Mischeff (get it?).
He sees your glowing, Friday-morning-ready-for-the-weekend face smiling at him, and you remind him of his jerk neighbor who won’t cut his grass.
Lionel decides (though he doesn’t necessarily do it consciously) to ruin your day.
He complains about your service, questions your knowledge, and abuses your policies. He is socially incompetent and unable to behave within the realm of your good day.
Has something like this ever happened to you?
How do you react?
More often than not, when our good days, good weeks, or good years (looking at you, 2019) are rained on by customers, family, finances, pandemics, health, politics, and many other mischiefs, we retreat to frustration and impatience.
It’s too easy.
Your speech shortens, your temperature rises, and you take to gossip and negative internal dialogue. We frame life’s mischief as unfair, malicious, and intent on our demise.
We have no code to deal with life’s mischief.
Why it matters
The easiest path to take is victimhood. It requires no effort, stimulates no growth, and rejects ownership of our path, our journey, our mission.
Victims Die Slow: when a person begs for solutions without looking inward, cries for help from the mud of pity, or allows the negative dialogue about that annoying customer to fester in the mind, the flame of aspiration dwindles.
Aspirations dwindle for the impatient, for the gossipers of no goodwill, and for the finger-pointing blameless because their own status becomes the ideal.
I don’t mean socioeconomic status. I don’t mean Facebook status.
I mean their point A (right now) and their point B (what’s coming).
This person has ruined my day.
This bill has ruined my week.
This injury has ruined my month.
This disease will ruin my life.
This accident will cost me everything.
Your point A becomes more important than the other point A: the person, situation, or environment ‘threatening’ you.
Your point B, your destination, seems doomed. Your weekend is ruined, your plans are shot, your eyes fall from goals and action to despair.
Because life’s mischief said no.
Despair and negativity ensues. Frustration boils. Your eyes fall and shoulders sag, your smile takes a vacation.
You failed not because of life’s mischief. It will come for everyone, after all. None of special enough to avoid bad things.
You failed because you did not have a code.
You’re on the wrong side of the question: “If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want with you?”
I’m not begging perfection. It would be impossible and dishonorable to tame your emotions to complete disuse.
However, it is better to practice emotional stability and direct passion and interest toward positivity and growth.
I’d say it’s paramount to success in ultrarunning (and life).
My code is this (and maybe it’s yours too):
“I want to be called on for the desert island. I want to be an anchor in another’s tossing sea. I want to exhibit the dependability, patience, strength, and intentional action needed to survive the worst of life’s mischief, that desert island, and become more dependable, patient, strong, and intentional through it. My presence ought to bring forth positive emotion and inspire dependability, strength, patience, and intentional action in others.
“When life’s mischief comes knocking, when some ghoul throws me down and puts the gun to my head, I will smile. I signed up for life the day I finished my first ultramarathon, wrote my first novel, and sold my car to bike more. Moments like these define the desert island. That’s where I want to be. For the good of others, and for the pursuit of more in my own life.”
That’s my Wicked Trail.