The Art of Doing More

Doing more. The art of doing more.

Passions are a time consuming affair. Often, when confronted with the effects that cultivating a strong dedication and discipline has on my life, and the lives of those around me, I scramble wildly for a motive. On a daily basis, I find myself confronted by the daunting question ‘why?’.

“To spend more time outdoors”, I say, “To challenge myself” or simply “Why not?”.

Yet these answers often fail to satisfy both my need to be understood as well as my interrogator’s curiosity. Not to mention how short they fall of the truth.

There are many truths, yet one rings truer than most and is rooted deeper in my development as a human.

But first let us clarify a few things. Notably a question I like to call: Why the why? My answer is twofold.

Firstly, there is a reason why I am more confronted with the question ‘why’. When a personal journey diverges from the common path, the motive for curiosity and inquiry is suddenly justified. We do not ask why toothpaste has a similar taste throughout the tube. If one night it were to taste like toads, the question ‘why’ would swiftly come to mind. And how valid and how normal it would be to ask. Yet, I truly believe that a more common path, were it to be as often put under the scrutiny of ‘why’, would be equally as challenging to explain or justify. Toad tasting toothpaste is simply a different kind of normal for a different kind of person.

Secondly, there is a reason why answering the question ‘why’ is tricky. In chasing dreams and cultivating passions, instinctual feelings heavily outweight rational thought, which makes rational answers a very inadequate medium to convey a motive.

That being said, one of the benefits of running as a daily activity is the amount of time we set aside for it, combined with the clear state of mind it invariably offers us to reflect upon such matters as how to answer the question ‘why?’. As my current passion is ultrarunning, I feel it would be unreasonable for me not to offer at least a few honest answers.

To start, I would state that it is a firm belief of mine that, however much the great ever-moving world around would like to make us believe the contrary, there are no guidelines for the manner in which one chooses to spend waking hours. Waking hours are the greatest freedom granted us by life, and the way we choose to spend them, I would venture to say, is the truest expression of who we are as individuals, of our claim to uniqueness.

Growing up, one of the most constant source of inspiration for me were people who did more with their waking hours. It takes a specific type of person to accomplish what most would call a day, (a day of school, a day of work) and then add a little personal dash of more. And how I envied these people! How I envied the confidence they derived from their secret dash of more. And that, I think, is where the road diverged for me. It is my most fundamental answer to ‘why?’.

Why? Because the art of doing more is my passion. And the journeys it has led me on, and the life it has shaped for me through the enhancement of my waking hours, defines who I am.

A lifelong pursuit of this way of life, has provided me with a lifetime’s worth of valuable lessons to learn. And interestingly, one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned along the way, is the following: The secret to doing more is not always about the dash of more. Rather, it lies hidden in our definition of a day. For, while it is true that doing more leads one to feeling special, it is but a positive side-effect of the main purpose which is the accomplishment of our varied potential.

A day is a convention. One of the most disuniting trait of human kind, I would argue, is what takes shelter under the umbrella-of-an-expression “to call it a day”.

In life, our first contact with a different definition for a ‘day’ is by learning about the lives of our elders: parents who worked night-shifts or arduous jobs to put themselves through university; grand-parents who, growing up, began supporting their family as soon as they could swing a hammer or milk a cow. Others may encounter it through travel, where a morning routine can vary from walking 5miles to fill a bucket of contaminated water for a starving family, to running 5miles in training for a race that cost more than a monthly salary in third world countries.

What then impacts our definition of a day?

The answer is not so simple. If you were to press me for an answer, I would probably propose that the major defining factor is a person’s environment. As my Grand-Father often says “Work was hard. Life even more so. But if you took a look around yourself, everyone else was doing the same. It felt normal at the time.” As a young man he would stay in camps with other young men, all with families to support, and many days would begin with a fully clothed dive in a freezing river to push logs downstream that were stuck on the riverbanks. Meanwhile my Grand-Mother would support the family alone and would take care of absolutely everything and everyone else at home. First up, and before the sun, every morning.

Therefore, to master the art of doing more, is to, in part, alter the convention of what constitutes a day. Is a day of school enough of a day to kick off sneakers and with them any further ambition greater than a frozen meal and video games? Is a day of work enough of a day to go home to a beer and a television show? Or more pertinently is it enough of a day to call it a day and proceed to add a dash of more?

Well directed, the art of doing more can lead to many incredible accomplishments. Yet, if misdirected, it can lead to a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment. Cast a few stones in any direction and you will hit as many examples of overachievement and underachievement. If you rely solely on your environment you will eventually find yourself lost in a game of comparison, which in itself leads three ways: self-flattery, self-depreciation or complacency.

‘More’, I’ve discovered with time, is a very vague and therefore very troublesome term. It is in great need of a compass to orient its meaning in the right direction. And to me this compass has come in the form of a simple question: what would my better-self do?

This question allows for an ideal that transcends the sometimes inadequacy of an environment to provide a valuable point of comparison. A better-self knows that it is sometimes necessary to alter the definition of normal, regardless of exterior influences. A better-self also knows that sometimes ‘more’ leads to excess, and in the case of training, to overtraining and injury, which in turn impedes on your ability to do more in the future. Therefore it may, at times, be wiser to be more flexible and consider that sometimes doing more can actually mean doing less.

In sum, the art of doing more has taught me that we must seize our waking hours, challenge the limited definition of a ‘day’, use our better-selves as a guiding compass and most of all never ever forget that which inspires us to move forward in this life.

Why then do I run Ultramarathons? Why do I go for a hard interval workout after a full day of planting trees? Why do I take the time to honestly answer the question ‘why’?

In this moment of my life, I would answer that my waking life is an expression of my passion for doing more.

Follow along on Instagram: @etiennegabriel

3 Comments Add yours

  1. jorunswild says:

    This really resonated with me. Very, very well written. You put into words thoughts and feelings that I also experience but were unable to describe – until now, I guess. It also made me aware that here, in the Western world, we are pretty lucky with our definition of “calling it a day” and how hard our days are and how it makes us see the world quite differently from many other peoples across the world.
    By the way, congrats on your Dirty Feet result! My friend who did the 10K was showing me her result and those of her friends and I stumbled upon your name. I ended up not participating because I met with my family – but with the smoldering heat that reigned that day, I’m not too disappointed, to be fair…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A thoughtful topic and one I struggle with. I find sometimes it is necessary to call it a day and sometimes the spirit says ‘press on’. It sounds like your life is definitely in the ‘press on’ category.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy to hear your perspective on this! Although I do strive to ‘press on’ the most valuable lesson I learn is often not ‘How far can I push myself’ but rather ‘Where the axis should lie to hold it all in balance’. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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