When Willingness Marries Ability

It takes two things to accomplish a goal. The first one is willingness, the other is ability. Conceptually simple. One of those ideas that is made more genius by it’s simplicity.

But when you start to apply the idea in practice it quickly becomes complicated. First off, which is more important in determining success? Can you overcome a lack of ability with sheer willingness? Physics would argue no. People who have witnessed or performed extraordinary feats against the odds would argue yes. And if someone very capable decides they don’t have a lot of interest can the task get completed?

And there’s the things that shape and form how willing or capable we are. Probably one of the most important and easiest to understand is DNA. My dreams to be in the NHL died when I turned 17. All of a sudden I was playing with kids who were much taller and heavier and faster than me. A body check just wasn’t an annoyance any more. They were starting to hurt. The willingness was there. But the writing was on the wall. Without the correct DNA I wasn’t going any further.

The military is an interesting place to observe where willingness is often pushed up to and sometimes past ability. I particularly remember my diving course. We did all kinds of crazy exercise before our day even started. And like the movies you’ve undoubtedly seen they screamed and pushed and pushed. One morning around 6:30 we running up a long steep hill. Something to this day I struggle with. Not being a strong runner I started to lag behind. But it gets worse. We were ordered to turn around and start running the hill backwards. I immediately slowed to a crawl. I struggled and started walking. Within seconds an instructor was two inches from my face. He very calmly told me I could run or I could quit. Walking wasn’t an option. I was a young man full of ego and machismo on a tough military course. I couldn’t quit. I already worked too hard to get to this point. I wanted the bragging rights that comes along with wearing the dolphins on your uniform. And I started to run. Lungs burning for air. Calves cramping with intense pain. The instructor kept taunting me as I struggled. “C’mon Larose just quit. Go have a nice hot shower. Be done with this.” I would have screamed ‘NO Master Seaman’ but that required energy I didn’t have. I made it to the top of the hill. I turned around and kept going. Obviously I had the ability. As slow as it was. But it took willingness fuelled by ego, machismo and the desire to join an elite group. I passed the course. It was a very proud day when I pinned the dolphins to my chest. I had the ability to be trained to a diver capable of diving in very adverse conditions. The willingness was also there. Two people didn’t have the willingness. They quit. We will never know if they had the ability.

And here I am today. 48 hours from now I should be sitting somewhere relaxing and celebrating. First I’ll have to answer the willingness and ability conundrum.

I’m not a young man any more. My ego has been tempered by experience and and the wisdom from failures you tend to accumulate over the years. And although am thankful to be as good as shape as I am this point in life there’s no escaping physics.

When things go bad can I manage willingness on my own? With no one taunting me to quit will I be able to reach deep down and keep going? What about ability? I’ve done all the training. I’ve improved. My resting heart rate has fallen through the proverbial floor. I am much faster. I put in the long hours and long kilometres every Sunday for almost half a year. What about the DNA though? What will my body do past 32k? And will the goal of completing outweigh the urge to just go have a hot shower.

Rationally I expect to finish. Emotionally it’s a little tougher. I’ve had bad long runs before. I know what they feel like. And I remember in those moments you start to wonder what ever possessed you to put yourself through so much pain. Do balance that I have had great runs. I finished the Bluenose half marathon with energy to spare. I’ve tried to reproduce everything I did in that training cycle. Shortly after that I did the Johnny Miles half marathon. That one didn’t go so well. I’ve tried to avoid the mistakes I made there.

Do I have the right marriage of ability and willingness? Hopefully I can answer at the finish line. But please don’t ask me at the 37 km marker. I’ll be busy fighting the dragons of pain and doubt.

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