Running in the Outer Lanes

    Posted on Tuesday, Oct 02, 2018
    On a recent Friday morning we went to our 2nd graders school to watch him run a “Boosterthon” ( This was essentially a fundraiser but instead of my child (or us parents) having to sell candies, had to run laps on the basketball court with all other students. Now to be fair, all students received the school shirt and participated in this very festive event regardless of a contribution or not. I know this because I failed to contribute anything before the deadline and after being yelled at by my wife ended up giving ten dollars in cash to the teacher to make up for my shortcoming. In all honesty, I think I prefer this way of fundraising over other intrusive ones. We were told that last year the school raised over 20 thousand dollars through this event.

                So, what does all this have to do with outer lanes. And more importantly what are the outer lanes. As I saw my son run along with other students I noticed something, more kids were running in the inside lanes, a lot more kids, most them. And my son along with a very handful of kids were running on the outside. As my son ran on the outside he was taking longer to run his laps compared to the kids running close to the center. At one point I could see that he wanted to finish along with the other kids towards the center and so to do that he had to run faster, very fast. This made me think. Does this phenomenon happen somewhere else as well? Are there parallels to this situation anywhere else in life? And as expected I found plenty of situations that mimic people choosing outside lanes over inside or vice versa.

                I will give two examples, first the technology sector, a world I left behind to pursue becoming a mathematics teacher. I was trained to be a computer programmer, to sit in a cubicle and to write code. I did that for a short while but when the plant that sat in my cubicle started talking back to me, I knew it was time to quit and find something else to do. In the plant’s defense, it only talked back because I was talking to it. Tech sector is heavily saturated with job applicants with all sorts of qualifications. It represents a market that is called sophisticated because the people who do the hiring can adopt sophisticated techniques of selecting employees and drive down the cost to themselves. I think of this as the inside lane where most people are running, trying to get somewhere. Compared to Tech-sector Bio-chemical engineering or Astro-physics might be considered non-sophisticated markets because there is less competition simply because there are less people in the running making it look like the outside lane. The laps may be longer, and the runner may need to spend more energy, but the reward is greater.

                Come to think of it, getting a Ph.D. from a tier-1 research university such as Texas A&M also seems like running in the outside lanes. There are many more expectations, and as a result much more work but the rewards are greater. I could have stayed at the best local university to get my Ph.D. but everyone went to that university and got a doctorate. That university was the inner lane, it was easy, it was convenient, and the years would have passed easily but I wanted to run in the outer lane where there less people in the running. Now let’s hope that the rewards match the effort.

    Aamir Fadai
    Aamir is a PhD student in the College of Education and Human Development

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