When the best has come… and gone

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The best is yet to come. A cheery proclamation about the future or a silent hope for things to come. Whether on greeting cards, in graduation caps, or lyrics in a song, the statement expresses the sentiment that warmer, sunnier things are on the horizon.

But what about when the best is behind us? When all we can see, to put it morbidly, is a slow slide into the abyss? For everything, there will be the day when we hit our peak, when we ran our fastest mile, wrote our best piece, or put together our most beautiful art. If striving is the base state of being a human, where does this leave us when the best has come… and gone? As cheerful as springtime with the promise of good weather and good times can make us, so the slow darkening of days, falling of leaves, and cold weather can also cast the dampening gloom. And this decline is not simply one for old age, but a continuing cycle of declines throughout life. The best gymnasts and football players often hit their primes in their teens or twenties. Triathletes or runners often in their thirties. Your best cholesterol levels and healthiest weights were probably as children. The most productive career years for many come early in their careers.

The response to this inevitable decline can be diverse. One option is, in the words of the poet, to rage against the dying of the light. We can become bitter, sad, and mournful. Slightly better, we can take the stoic option and endure. On the other hand, we can find new things to pursue that we can still improve at. We can contentedly reflect on the glory days. We can live vicariously through others. We can make the joy of the activity the object instead of the outcome. Even if it isn’t our fastest mile perhaps it can be the most fun. It becomes healthy for our goals and values to change. Status symbols, prizes, and awards give way to quality time, personal bests, and brand new pursuits. Like a good hike up a mountain, the path up is enjoyable for the challenge, the struggle to catch your breath, and the burning in your legs. The brief pause at the top is memorable and well worth the climb. On the way down you can breathe easily and talk while viewing your surroundings. The journey then is defined by transitions. From ascent to descent, and from trail to trail. Certain aspects of each portion of the journey are far better but there is a valuable and enjoyable component unique to each.

Be purposeful. Be flexible. Journey well.

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