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Physical activity has always been a metaphor to me. And a lens I use to focus on something larger: life. Generally.

Sport taught me that effort matters. That what I put out usually corresponds to what I get out. Output informs outcome. Sometimes output equals outcome and those days are the best — when I give everything and at the end of the day I receive it all back, however “it” is defined.

Sport taught me honesty. When I am honest with myself about my current condition, and about the requirements of my ambition it is easy to draw the line from point A to point B. Walking it is another story. When I make an honest assessment of myself I know whether I have progressed or not. I can sort “likes” from truth. I see how far I have come. I see how far remains ahead of me. Most of all I understand how far I CAN go if I apply myself.

Sport taught me economics. I learned to spend my effort wisely. I learned the difference between an investment and an expense. I learned to keep something in the bank just in case. I understand better than most the real cost of living beyond one’s means. I’ve withdrawn a little from this account. Many, many friends overdrew and died for it. Yes, some had bad luck but luck is fortune and fortune is wealth and spending more than we have puts us all in the ground — one way or another.

Wise expenditure is one of sport’s great lessons. A couple of years ago Josh Vert captioned a photo he posted on the old gym website with these sage words, “The trick is to dose it properly so you can make it all the way through your set without dropping it.” Indeed, the trick is to live as hard and well as you can without triggering a premature expiration date.

Sport taught me that duration builds, intensity sharpens, and when intelligently combined the result is unbeatable. Our backbone, and foundation are built with consistent, persistent, and often tedious effort. Our teeth grow with intensity. They are hardened when we grit them, and we sharpen them in the heat of truly transformative effort. There is no point to honing unhardened teeth. No reason to sharpen the tip of the spear if you haven’t yet built its handle.

Intensity gets me high. It doesn’t take much. And it’s easy to mistake the high for the objective. Or to get high over and over because it feels so good, even if it’s not taking me closer to my goal. I’ve seen the trap. And I’ve stepped into it over and over. Every time my foot was poised above its jaws I could see the smart alternative out of the corner of my eye. So I choose that more often than not these days: to go long, to go outside, to focus on duration and foundation, knowing how easy it is to sharpen the blade if it’s made of good steel and properly prepared.

Above all sport taught me to focus. When I want to improve I concentrate. Concentration means exclusion so when I am trying to do something better, when I have decided that I am not satisfied with my current performance or condition, I exclude. I do only what improves. I ignore what distracts. I reject what opposes. Focus means just that: making the subject clear blurs the periphery—often to the point that it is no longer visible. That makes it tough for anything or anyone at the edges of the frame.

Which is another thing I learned from sport: we can be and do whatever we want as long as we can afford the price. Sometimes those around us benefit from our achievement. Sometimes they underwrite it. Equally, the effort we make to improve ourselves drags those around us upward too. Our example can open the account of their own reinvention. Everything costs something. Everyone pays.

If you look deep enough your ledger is in balance, and if it isn’t right now eventually it will be because that is the nature of life, and sport. Whether you enjoy the balance you have achieved or not is up to you.