“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T. S. Eliot
On May 6th in 1954, a 25 year old medical student living in London named Roger Bannister was working his shift at St. Mary’s hospital.
Roger was on a track team, and he had a meet that evening.
One important thing to note about the year 1954 was that no human being had ever run a mile in under 4 minutes. It was thought to be impossible. Simply outside of our reality. Our bodies were not build to achieve such a feat.
There were 1,200 people in the audience on that evening, when Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. He was the first [recorded] to ever break that barrier.
What’s even more interesting, though, is what happened after.
People started breaking his record, and breaking it again, and again, and again.
How is it that human beings could go thousands of years without recording someone running under a 4 minute mile, and suddenly start doing it at such a frequency? Surely we didn’t magically evolve in the 1950’s…
In some ways, though, we did. We had a door opened to us that we hadn’t even considered before. It was possible for a human to run a sub 4-minute mile, and therefore we simply began doing it.
The only thing that changed was the belief that we could.
Many of us have our own stories of achievements that we didn’t think were possible until we did them. This could be meeting a tight deadline at work, or asking out someone you’ve had a crush on for years, or getting your master’s degree in your 60’s. No matter what it is, every great achievement starts with someone who refused to accept the status quo.
Humans would never have gone into space if we simply accepted that gravity couldn’t be overcome. We wouldn’t have even built a plane.
No step forward, no progress, no accomplishment has started with the belief that it was impossible. If we really thought this, we’d never bother taking the first step.
Stories like Roger’s, though, continue to give us hope. Maybe your goal isn’t to run the fastest human mile ever recorded, but maybe the story of him doing it makes you second-guess what limits you are currently accepting for yourself.
Think about the fortitude it takes to overcome what is universally accepted as the limits for the human body. There is quite literally no larger obstacle to overcome than the worldwide belief that the human species was simply incapable of something – until it wasn’t.
What obstacles are you currently facing that you’re telling yourself cannot be overcome? What stories and limits have you accepted that have kept you from even trying to break through them?
What mold have you shrunk yourself into just because nobody else has had the courage to break it yet?
Roger Bannister passed away in 2018 at the age of 88. We will tell his story for centuries to come, because of one dreary morning in 1954.
He was a 25 year old medical student. A human being with 24 hours in a day who was dedicated to achieving greatness in his craft.
Just like you.