The Fallacy of "Stay Hungry"

In my youth, I was obsessed with continuous improvement. My coaches encouraged me to always be motivated, to get after it, to stay hungry.

“There is always someone working harder than you!” - said my father.

“Shake off the rust!” - said my high school lacrosse coach.

“You’re only as good as your last game!” - said an officiating mentor.

Every practice was an opportunity to be better than the practice before.

Every game was a chance to impose my will on less prepared opponents.

Every test was a shot to showcase my knowledge and understanding.

Be motivated. Get after it. Stay hungry.

It takes work to get where you want to go. If you feel your motivation is waning, watch this.

Strange… no one ever told me to pause, to shut down, to develop contentment. Sure, teachers and coaches told me that I needed to take care of myself.

That I could take things easy when I felt the need.

I always imagined huge air quotes surrounding whomever told me to take a break.

I wrote that “taking a break feels vaguely unAmerican” in an earlier post. I’ll step further onto that plank and state that taking a break feels sinful in our culture.

Each student I talk to, without fail, says they experience extreme pressure in many areas of their lives. Teachers tell me that students are too stressed to learn, which in turns causes greater stress that they cannot learn. I see coaches demand 100% effort in every practice; somehow forgetting the eight hours of significant work put in during the school day.

Everywhere kids are expected to give everything they have at every moment of the day. Is it any wonder why depression and anxiety rates are skyrocketing among young people?

Be motivated. Get after it. Stay hungry.

I find it extraordinarily odd that it took me thirty one years to discover that I perform better when I pace my efforts while respecting my physical, mental, and emotional health. In high school a guest speaker talked about time management in the same vein that companies bring in a police officer to talk about how to survive a potential active shooter situation. These talks merely serve to protect the organization scheduling them. It allows administrators to say, “Look, we talked about this - not our fault if people don’t follow these instructions when it matters.”

Advice given once, in an environment where it cannot be practiced is meaningless. It takes intentional repetition to form habits that will work in situations of extreme stress, both chronic (schoolwork) and acute (someone with a weapon).

I am a big believer in doing as much as I can with how I feel today. Some days, I can stretch myself. Other days, I need to pull back and conserve energy. Remarkably, this does not makes me inefficient or unproductive. These peaks and valleys of performance average out in the end, and the debilitating effects of chronic stress won’t eat me out from the inside in the process.