The Best Philosophical Quote Ever Comes from a 2008 Novel About Runners

forget “Meditations”. pick up the tale of quenton cassidy, instead. (photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash)

As someone with delusions of grandeur, I’m constantly practicing what I’ll say in interviews when I finally become rich and famous.

I strive to strike a balance between being humble, yet encouraging, with just enough insight into the would and life as a whole to lend me some gravitas.

To achieve this, I’ve taken the Jules Winnfield approach, and memorized a passage that I think perfectly encapsulates my personal philosophy.

But it’s not something pulled from the Bible, ancient Stoics, or even Voltaire (although in these imaginary interviews, I do usually sneak in a few Candide references as well.)

No, my “perfect philosophical quote” comes from a book published in ’08 about a fictional runner named Quenton Cassidy. If that name rings even the faintest bell, you’re probably about to comment that Once a Runner was, in fact, published in the 70s.

However, the novel I’m referring to is actually John L. Parker’s much-maligned sequel, Again to Carthage.

The most perfectly crystallized piece of insight about work, life, and the world as a whole comes at the part where Cassidy’s friend and coach Bruce Denton is reminiscing about his Olympic past, and reflecting on exactly what it takes to achieve such an incredible feat.

The quote itself goes like this:

“You don’t even get to play unless you have already won the genetic lottery. Then you have to win the nurture lottery, then the happenstance lottery, and then just in general be incredibly lucky in every conceivable way, and then you will have earned the right to work your ass off like most civilians could never possibly imagine.”

I was in high school when I first read Again to Carthage, shortly after reading Once a Runner along with my friends from cross country.

We fancied ourselves the “serious” runners on the team, and clung deeply to the idea that we had, in fact, won these lotteries and were destined for greatness.

But when I imagined my post-Olympic interviews back then, when this quote made an appearance (which was rare) it was much like Jules’s original use of Ezekial 25:17.

I didn’t think much about what it meant, but I liked the way it sounded and fit into these highly theoretical situations.

It’s only now, after my competitive running dreams met a disappointing end, only to be replaced by lofty aspirations for my career and a life I love, do I appreciate the full implications of this passage.

It reminds me to be grateful of the amazing situations that allowed me to make it this far, while also working my ass off to make sure I can reach my full potential.

While that may no longer be in the realm of running (although I do occasionally try to get back into shape, so who knows?) it’s a perfect, realistic reminder of how success is actually achieved.

So for now, I’ll be keeping it in mind to help foster gratitude alongside a realistic sense of how the world works, as well as I’ll keeping it in my back pocket for future interviews (of course!)

But until I’m being featured on Oprah, I’ll keep working, and try to be lucky in every conceivable way, as well ☆