I Have to Ask You: Lessons from Track and Field

Posted on January 9, 2018

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Jason Jones, Guilford County, NC, writes about how his local government career benefits from being part of the track and field team at North Carolina State University.

Apparently ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt moonlights as a private background investigator, diving deep into the past lives of all of his ELGL family. Sometimes I forget that I spent five years as a track and field athlete while also receiving a quality education at North Carolina State University. I mean, it isn’t really something that you whip out of your “fun facts bag” all that frequently. Discussing the intricate physics of spinning in a circle with a sixteen pound cast iron ball before releasing it in a blur of chalk dust and grunting doesn’t make for the best dinner conversation.
However, I joke a lot about how my track career prepared me for my professional life in local government. Track and field is a difficult sport when it comes to staying motivated. You toil away week after week to improve your strength, conditioning and form for a small window of opportunity to prove yourself. If you fail or lose your love for the process, you need the appropriate support in place to make sure it doesn’t derail you long term.
So, to answer Kent’s question and perpetuate the usage of government acronyms, I present for your consideration my motivational TIP.
I was fortunate to have another track and field athlete at NC State devote a lot of time and energy towards helping me succeed. Having your coach as a resource is great, but nothing compares to another person toiling right beside you that you can share your struggle with. When the monotony gets to you or failure inevitably happens, talking with someone that knows exactly what you are going through helps pull you forward. Even though I’m an introvert, I leave those conversations with a full charge in my battery. We sometimes underestimate the incredible benefits of being able to talk through your sticking points with someone who has your back.
This one is simple and something you hear all the time. Invest in your mental and physical capacity to stay motivated. I like the word invest, because it builds a mental bridge to something tangible. Think about taking time to give your mind and body what it needs to stay healthy like putting money in your savings account every day or week. There is going to be a time where work or life hits you hard and you are going to need to make a withdrawal. If you haven’t been making those investments, you are going to fall into a negative balance. This is a simple truth that we all know, but a difficult truth to live.
I feel like everyone reading this is thinking, “well no-duh Jason, but you have to be motivated to persist”. Partly true, but we forget that motivation lives on the other side of one of our battles. Think about when you were stuck on something in school, struggling with a professional relationship or tackling a problem at work that seemed impossible. There was usually an easy road you could take to avoid blasting through the obstacles that comprise struggles like those. When motivation is fleeting, it is tempting to take those easy roads. Experience has taught me that when you choose to not take the easy road and you persist through, despite the lack of motivation, there is a surge waiting on the other side. The feeling you get when you push through an obstacle and break free on the other side can propel you a great distance.
I hope some of this is helpful and that you can use my TIP acronym in some way in your life. This isn’t groundbreaking but it never hurts to reiterate some of these things. I’m even going to “persist” a little bit myself here and answer Kent’s BONUS question.

Kent also asked me to describe my excitement when UNC won the national championship in 1924, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, and 2017. The first thing I’ll say is that I wasn’t even a twinkle in my dad’s eye for the first two. My answer would have been a little different a couple months ago, but since my wife will be starting graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill in January (humble brag), I will just simply say that I’m excited that they have such a rich history of national basketball prominence. Regardless, GO WOLFPACK!

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