A photographer clicked a picture, as he would of everyone who finished. I was a cipher to him — a grimacing, cipher, the 324th person to cross, an unimportant finisher in an unimportant time in an unimportant race. In the picture you can see the crowd at the finish, looking right past me toward the middle distance, waiting for their mom or dad, son or daughter to hove into view. It mattered not at all what I had done.

But it mattered to me. When it was done, I had a clearer sense of myself, of my power and my frailty. For a period of hours, and especially those last gritty miles, I had been absolutely, utterly present, the moments desperately, magnificently clarified. As meaningless as it was to the world, that’s how meaningful it was to me. I met parts of myself I’d never been introduced to before, glimpsed more clearly strengths and flaws I’d half suspected.

— Bill McKibben, Enough

Our general physician moved out of the area last winter, so the Lady of the House found a concierge doctor in town. I went to see her a couple weeks ago to establish care and do my yearly physical. This doctor’s philosophy is that the standard health guidelines are too lax — if you’re not actively dying, good enough. She prefers to be more proactive. Don’t just wait until a host of symptoms appear. You may not be deficient in this vitamin or mineral, but you should still try get more of it. Your glucose may not be prediabetic, but you should still try to lower it. To my surprise, the bloodwork included an analysis of testosterone levels, which I’d never had before. Mine was slightly low, though perfectly within the normal range for a man in his fifties. To my astonishment, the recommended course of action was to receive weekly injections.

You can’t be active in gym culture and not be aware of steroid use and its respectable sibling, testosterone replacement therapy. The husband-and-wife team that owns the gym are staunchly anti-steroid and always have been, which possibly explains the relative lack of grotesque, freakishly-muscled roidheads among the clientele. Still, there are some guys who are clearly on steroids, and even a few women with suspiciously well-defined quads and square jawlines. I had never given much thought to it, assuming the question would never present itself. I surely didn’t expect it to show up in a doctor’s office. Now that it has, do I find it tempting?

Not exactly, but I admit that at first, I recognized the pleasant feeling of having an officially-sanctioned excuse in my possession. The burden of agency always weighs heavily on human shoulders. It can be a relief to shrug it off, to say, “Hey, this authority figure told me it’s okay.” It’s one thing to say, in the abstract, that I’m not interested in performance-enhancing drugs when I don’t expect to ever encounter any. It’s another thing to get a text message saying that a prescription for them is waiting for you at your local pharmacy if you choose to fill it. I feel satisfied with my lifting progress, and I think I look pretty good for a guy in his fifties, but, you know, now that you mention it, my stomach could be a little flatter and my abs more defined, and wouldn’t it be cool to finally deadlift 500 pounds sooner rather than later…?

That kind of fantasy passes quickly, but again, the feeling of being justified, of being sanctioned, is the more insidious one. If you knew nothing else about the particulars of social-justice crusading, you could still recognize the dangerous volatility of telling people that indulging their worst, most anti-social impulses will paradoxically lead to utopia. What a relief to have your Sisyphean efforts interrupted by someone offering a shortcut or a labor-saving device!

We have a clear idea of “more,” but it’s hard to have a clear idea of “enough.” Or, rather, once we finally declare “enough,” we immediately get bored and antsy and start second-guessing ourselves. Is this it? I dropped out of the race for “more,” but the race is still going on all around me, and everybody looks so excited, and wait a minute, I’m supposed to be content with my limitations forever? For all our delusions about progress and getting somewhere, the same scenario recurs. Pace McKibben, we meet the same parts of ourselves over and over again. The me who daydreams about testosterone injections helping me easily bench-press 235 pounds instead of struggling with it is the same me who will fantasize about “more” again when 255 becomes my new ceiling, or 275, or 315. At some point, time, or the inherent frailty of the human body, will set a hard limit on what I can achieve. Why not use rational thought and reflection to decide when “good enough” is enough? Because that would require agency, responsibility, and that’s difficult and unpleasant. Submission to the logic of “If I can, then I should,” is itself just another attempt to shrug off our own agency and let someone or something else make the hard choices for us.

I’m not going to take the injections. I’ll achieve what I can with diet, proper rest, and over-the-counter supplements, and that will be good enough. Besides, I wouldn’t want to lose my trainer’s respect, or endure the endless busting of my chops that would follow.