The other day at dinner, I had an interesting conversation with my Dad. He was discussing this years Heisman winner, a Quarterback from Texas A&M named Johnny Manziel who is apprently the first Freshman to ever win the trophy. Now personally, I know very little about the Heisman voting process, and frankly, I don't care unless someone from Ohio State wins. Although, if there is one thing that I care about, it is preserving Archie Griffin's legacy as the only Two-Time winner, because I've met him and in real life, he is super rad.
Anyway, Dad was talking about him winning, and I was obviously displeased that he is a Freshman winner, because this gives him at least two if not three more chances to win the Heisman again, and this is not good for the Buckeye legacy. Luckily for me, Dad thinks that Archie's record should be fine, because he doubts that Manziel will ever win it again because of something about other players and fame and football, and yada yada yada.
Without really giving it much thought I said, "That's good, I don't want him to win it again." To which my Dad replied, "Good for you, but how do you think it feels to be a Freshman in college and know that your life has peaked?"
And it got me to thinking, do our lives peak? And if so, are we aware of it when it happens? When I make a batch of zucchini spice cupcakes for Thanksgiving with a Cream Cheese frosting and everyone adores them, does the thought cross my mind that these cupcakes will probably be the best spice cupcakes I ever make? It gets worse: Do you ever realize when you are in college that these might be the happiest, best-looking, free-est days of your life? And if you don't realize it when it happens, will you only look back on your life with longing for the past? Doesn't that just make us all Winston Smith living in 1984?
But the alternative is worse isn't it? what if instead of looking back at your life and realizing your best days are behind you, you are Johnny Manziel? What if for some reason you know that this may be as good at football as you are ever going to get, and you are unlikely to ever win another Heisman, or play as a professional Quarterback? Do you relish the few brief moments you have that you know will be your best, or do you despair as you look into the future?
There's a scene in Pirate Radio where Phillip Seymour Hoffman tells Young Karl that the best days of Rock and Roll are behind them, and that Rock and Roll is dead. He thinks that the heyday is over, and the best it ever was going to get is going to be is The Kinks. The film is set in 1966.
Maybe Hoffman was depressed. Maybe he genuinely thought that once the government shut down Pirate Radio, Rock and Roll would really die. But when he said that to Young Karl, he had never heard The Beatles, or the The Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin, or any of the great Rock and Roll masters that made music in the 47 years and counting since then.
It seems to me that thinking you have peaked is the reason that one peaks. The minute you decide that you've reached your full potential, is when you unconsciously decide to leave part of it untapped forever.
My personal hero, Ina Garten, started out her career at Stanford University studying economics. She married, earned a job working at the White House, climbed the ladder at the Office of Management and Budget and worked for the likes of Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford writing nuclear policy. Some people would look at that point of their lives, decide they had peaked, continue to work hard, and eventually retire. Ina decided instead to buy a specialty food store in the Hamptons, and try running her own business for a change. She quit Washington, moved to New York, and made a new name for herself in cooking. Some people would quit then, after the success of their second career venture was a hit. But "some people" don't become the Barefoot Contessa.
Ina turned her time to writing cookbooks, became a bestselling author, and was offered a show on Food Network. She has graced many of my afternoons with cooking tips, helped me plan many a party, and has a few daytime Emmy's just to show for her effort. She has her own line of pantry products, so that we can make her recipes just like she would, without having to mess them up three times before we get it right.
Because that's what we are all doing. We are all just trying different recipes until one turns out right. And if you are anything like Ina Garten, you aren't just satisfied with "peaking" at one great batch of Zucchini Spice cupcakes. You want to make them better. Or try a new ingredient. Or find a way to do something else that pushes you and the world further.
Archie Griffin does amazing work with the Ohio State University Alumni Association, even though he won his two Heisman trophies years ago. Steven Spielberg is nominated for a Best Picture practically every year, even though he won his first Oscar in 1993 and has been making mainstream films since the 70's. And I guess for Johnny Manziel's sake, I hope he doesn't think he's peaked either. I mean there's always coaching football right?