Inside the Dash: Galloping Forward

by Helen Zhu, TALON Academics Editor

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This podcast series hopes to slow things down for a few minutes of conversation with someone in this community, and to tell the stories of the lives of our community — inside the dash.

Are you happy?

This seems like such a simple question, one asked in passing and almost always answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Earlier this month, I participated in a team bonding activity framed like the Privilege Walk but with standard ‘get-to-know-you’ questions. Chatter rang out across the blacktop as the facilitator read out each question. 

“Question 9: Are you happy?” 

We all fell silent, looking around, hesitating to step forward yet also hesitating not to.

What I failed to account for was the bigger picture. Instead of thinking about all the work I’ve done or haven’t done, I could have been reflecting on all the reasons to be grateful: the supportive people in my life; lessons learned in and outside the classroom; my Mint Mojito from Philz. 

As American journalist Sydney Harris said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place.” 

Even the adults in our daily school life encounter difficulties, yet they are eventually able to find the positives in the journey towards their destination. 

Mr. Keller attended his first rodeo with the impetus of meeting girls. The three events — the barrel race, the stake race and the flag race — are all high intensity, high paced, high stakes events with an overwhelmingly female competitor pool.

Decked out in his first cowboy hat, dress clothes and boots, Mr. Keller rode in the grand entry parade on his aunt’s horse, Yimkin. Half a country away from knowing anybody, he had high hopes of meeting new people. However, his horse fell and rolled on him in the mud.

“You talk about having to deal with adversity, I was crushed. My stupid horse fell down. Now who am I going to meet covered in mud?” Mr. Keller said.

Needless to say, Mr. Keller was pretty sour after his first experience at the rodeo. But as much as he wanted to quit, his uncle refused. 

Instead, his uncle borrowed Buck, a faster and stronger horse.

Despite having a natural affinity for sports, this was all new, and Mr. Keller had to work to overcome challenges riding Buck. In his first race, Mr. Keller was hanging on for dear life, having the sole goal of not falling off. 

He didn’t win his first race; he didn’t even come close. But he didn’t quit.

“Of all the high school and college trophies I won for sports, the trophies my mother put on the mantle were the ones in the rodeo. She was so proud of those, because that didn’t come naturally like sports came naturally. It was fun, and I did it for three years,” Mr. Keller said.

If Yimkin hadn’t fallen, Mr. Keller would have ridden him in the rest of the parades and would have never experienced the excitement, that adrenaline rush. He wouldn’t have gotten Buck.

“It was a cowboy dream that you see on TV: we got to do it, even if it was just for a little while during the summer,” Mr. Keller said.

Mr. Keller’s annual trip from North Carolina to Arkansas contributed to his growing up more than the physical labor or even the thrill of rodeos; it fostered a close relationship with his uncle. 

“My uncle and I were really close and we worked together all day. I loved every minute of it. It didn’t matter how hard the work was. And he didn’t treat me like a 16-year-old. He treated me like I was there to do this man’s work.”

The direction that you go in and what you do while you’re pursuing that direction determines if you are happy. The place — the tangible achievement at the end — is simply a byproduct.

It can be easy to forget in the midst of things, but facing setbacks is the best way, if not the only way, to move forward. Even if you’re covered head-to-toe in mud, you are still working towards your goal.

As Mr. Keller says, “If you fall flat on your face, you’re still moving forward.”