Identity and Labels

Meet Ben.

In high school, Ben was a runner. He was a very good runner. He went to the state championship and won. He got a scholarship to a good university. He ran for a few years, but after a minor injury led to a soul-searching experience his Junior year, he realized he didn’t want to become an Olympian and didn’t have any interest in a running career outside that.

After graduating, he became a real estate agent. He still ran some on the side, but also took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to feed his need for competition. With his self-discipline, knowledge of how to train well, and general level of physical fitness, Ben started competing in, and occasionally winning, martial arts tournaments. But again he felt the need to make a decision, and as he aged he decided there were more important things in life than the hyper-focused dietary and training regimens necessary to compete at the highest levels.

At age 38, Ben is leading a comfortable life. He has a girlfriend that he’s pretty serious about. They’ve talked about getting married. He’s worked hard as a realtor and went into business for himself.

If you asked Ben whether he is an athlete, he would say no.

In Ben’s mind, an athlete is someone who is actively training to be the best. Someone who’s a professional, competing at a high level. There’s a part of him that looks down on himself for not being an athlete, but he would never lay claim to that title. It would be disrespectful toward all the men and women currently in training, currently trying to be the best. Those are the athletes.

To most of the world, Ben is an athlete. At age 38, he could run a marathon tomorrow, without training. He could run a marathon faster than I could run a 10k. But Ben would never apply the label of athlete to himself because of his life experience and how he defines the word.

I wonder what Ben labels himself as now, and how that affects his behavior and choices?

One thought on “Identity and Labels

  1. It sounds like Ben’s high standards make him feel inadequate. This may be one example of how aiming low keeps us happy. I don’t advocate aiming low at everything in life, but I think it’s unrealistic and destructive of happiness to aim for peak performance in everything we do. There should be room for doing something just because we enjoy doing it, not because we want to be the best.


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