Lessons From Urban

His heart was pounding, racing at a pace that surely would make any competent doctor raise an immediate concern for the safety of his patient. Beads of sweat rolled slowly down his forehead, wiped away by a hurried swipe of a forearm, only to be replaced by fresh ones. He was hunched over his keyboard, fingers flicking over its surface in a frantic blur of activity. His eyes gleamed with fury; two dark spots whose glare was entirely focused on the screen before him.

It was anything but an elegant fight that they waged, the operator and his silicon-based opponent. They darted back and forth, each one probing the other for any sign of weakness. Even as one seemed to gain the upper hand, the other would counter with a move both swift and unexpected. It was a war of attrition waged by two stubborn parties: one driven by his need for dominance, the other because it did not know how to do anything but respond in kind.

Words and numbers trailed endlessly across the screen, a seemingly meaningless stream of nonsense, uttered by a mind bereft of all reason. Yet to the operator it all made perfect sense; perfect nonsense, that is. As his nemesis endlessly spewed chunks of data, his eyes sprinted back and forth, trying as best he could to collect and analyze it all. But try as he might, it seemed always that his enemy held the upper hand. Just as he gleaned a tiny bit of understanding, some small nugget of progress, a new wrinkle would appear, more confounding than the last.

As his frustration grew he felt his temples begin to throb; gently at first, but increasingly as time passed. It was as if his body was trying to tell him “Back off, you’re in dangerous territory.” But he was past all reason, so completely consumed he was with his task at hand. On and on he pushed, till the throbbing became outright agony. He flung open the drawer to his right, digging feverishly through its contents until a small bottle was found. Pawing it open, he quickly extracted two small white pills and swallowed them hurriedly, without water. They offered little hope of relief, but perhaps they would give him the edge he so desperately desired, no, needed.

So, I’ll give you three guesses around what the above narrative is about. A piece from my first attempt at an epic sci-fi perhaps (yes, that is very much on my someday list)?

I’ll give you a hint: been following the saga of Urban Meyer, the embattled yet highly acclaimed football coach of the Florida Gators? If you have, you know that he’s basically been told by his doctors that the very thing that makes him one of the most successful coaches in history may also cause him to prematurely leave this Earth: his singular focus and intensity.

When I first read this story, my immediate thought was “Wow, that could be describing me to a T, minus the arachnoid cyst pressuring his skull and all.” I am probably one of the more driven individuals you’ll ever meet; when my mind is set on solving some problem, it’s a nearly useless task to try and pull me away. Just ask my wife, she’ll be happy to oblige you with all sorts of evidence supporting that statement.

On the one hand, this trait is an asset: it lets me persevere when others would stop, long discouraged by setbacks and seemingly insurmountable challenges. It’s probably the major reason why I’ve been so successful in a field that, up until around three years ago, I knew nothing about. But there is a dark side to this unending focus. It manifests as the (not so at times) occasional splitting headache, the missed personal responsibility, the midnight awakenings when nothing short of a blow to the skull will seemingly quiet my mind.

Faced with the prospect of enduring this escalating chain of physical and emotional malaise, I’ve made the decision, much as Meyer did, to step back. No, I’m not taking a leave of absence, but I am engaging in a concerted effort to become more aware of my emotions and the physical manifestations thereof. Journaling, reminder alarms to “check in” with my state of mind, even asking others to notice when my symptoms begin to show themselves.

I love my work, but I love my family and my health above all else.

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