The Fundamental Growth Curve (Part 1)

by radimentary

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m joining a friend to write low-effort shortform blog posts every day this month.

The first topic I’ll write about is what growth feels like, and where people hit walls, plateau, and stagnate. Learn to optimize around the plateau, and you’ll be unstoppable.

A Parable

You have no hand-eye coordination to speak of, but your parents want you to touch grass, so you sign up for cross country. In the beginning, you’re the slowest of the pack, but you improve rapidly. You train nearly every day and your mile time drops from nine minutes to six-twenty in three months. The numbers go down. Walking up the stairs doesn’t wind you anymore. Finally the seniors are waiting for someone else to catch up. Across the whole team, you may only rise from the dead last to the 20th percentile, but to you it feels like winning the Olympics.

Then you hit a brick wall.

You need to shave off a minute twenty to make varsity, and every last second gives you a fight for its life. You slog through nearly two years of training. Seven hundred and thirty days drowning in an endless barrage of shin splints and intrusive thoughts. The fact that you rise from the 20th percentile to the 80th means fuck-all; every freshman who speeds past you to snag a trophy sends you spiraling back into that pit of self-doubt.

And then, by virtue of some minor miracle, you finally push through that wall. You paid your dues. The best runner graduates. Puberty finally kicks in. You have a good night’s rest before tryouts. Whatever the reason, you make varsity.

Coach knows your name – finally! – and starts giving you individual attention. Every second you gain is a triumph – you can see yourself climbing those rankings every single meet. Out of the blue, the gossipy neighbor asks your parents for advice on preparing her middle-school daughter for high-school sports, and mom finally starts taking this running thing seriously. They rearrange their schedules around your training, and cut you some slack on the academic side. Everything is coming together.

You spent three years pumping your exhausted legs through final laps listening to crowds cheering for someone else. Finally, one day, you cross the finish line and you know you won the race. You know because the crowd has just started cheering, and the one they’re cheering for is you.

To be continued…