Gnomicon 244

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Gnomicon  244
Friday 11 January 2013
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It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.
Mia Hamm (17 Mar 1972 –  )

So very true, but why?

I have a theory about the truth value of this verrry widely applicable observation – she no doubt was talking about getting to the top in soccer, but it goes so much farther than that … so much farther.

I remember my Father once introducing me to a friend of his after I had graduated from college.  It was the usual parental pride in child’s achievement, and his friend gushed and oohed and aahed and carried on, and then she said (and I still see her lips moving as she said it) something I have never forgotten, struck even at the time by the vacuity of her surely well-intended comment:  “Isn’t that wonderful.  Now you can finally relax!”

Finally relax?

The fact was – and I knew it even then, and as I discovered during the year that followed, what I knew proved to be more true even I had imagined – that graduate school began in about three months …  Sure, I’d graduated from college and I was off to a great graduate school, but getting to that point really was, in retrospect, the easy part!  And so it went … Finishing grad school and getting the degree was, by comparison with the early years of a university career of teaching and research, the truly easy part.  Now the hard work began!

I don’t know much about Mia Hamm’s educational background, but what she said with athletics obviously in mind she could just as easily have said about almost any career.  In fact, how does a freshly minted M.D. feel about her situation, or a new J.D. about his prospects, and so forth?  And it obviously applies to the trajectory of this woman’s career as a soccer player (in 1996 and 2004 she won gold in women’s soccer at the Olympic games).

The high school I went to did not run an American-style football program but only soccer as the main sport, so – although I was never very good at it or even make the varsity team – I did play a lot of soccer (as I also had when growing up in Europe), and it is a grueling game in a way that American football is not.  Above all it take great endurance conditioning, because there are no breaks for huddles and all that stuff – just run run run up and down the field for the entire quarter.  I still occasionally watch some ‘European football’ (= soccer) on television, and I can almost feel that old panting in my chest.  The point is that I have great admiration not only for the kind of podal pyrotechnics of a phenom like Pelé but for the superb physical conditioning of soccer players in general, and what Mia Hamm declares carries weight with me.

Interestingly, in addition to its verifiable validity in the broader sense noted above, it also applies to any number of other situations – to take just one: losing weight.  There are all kinds of complex and complicated biochemical explanations (leptins, anandamides, α-MSH, cholecystokinins, neuropeptides, blah blah blah) for why it’s so difficult to maintain weight loss once achieved, and that is certainly the case in comparison to the actual losing of the weight in the first place:  Mia was right on – getting there isn’t the problem:  the problem is staying there.

Most people can probably own the observation each in his or her own private way.

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