fitness · racing

Applying the terms DFL-DNF-DNS to life these days

Is it me, or is life right now kind of hard, very unpredictable and undeniably weird? This fall marked my return to the philosophy classroom, everyone masked, most of us vaccinated, and no one feeling like their before-times selves. University administration is trying very hard to usher/cajole/push faculty, staff and students back into a new-normal routine. And I get it. But man of man, we are so not back into a routine of any sort.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to understand how I’m doing these days. Yes, I’m back to commuting to work (aided by my new, beautiful Aegean Blue Honda Civic Hatchback and copious podcasts). And it’s a great pleasure to see my students in person. But living my grown-up, working life with its pre-COVID responsibilities is still too much for me. I’m not crossing the finish line of the day, feeling triumphant and looking to high-five anyone. No, that is definitely not my end-of-the-day feeling.

Enter some race designation acronyms that might help describe what’s going on some days. You may or may not be familiar with them. Here’s the list:

  • DFL: Dead F*cking Last
  • DNF: Did Not Finish
  • DNS: Did Not Start

Conventional wisdom/advice for anyone who’s dabbling in amateur racing (I did some bike racing and also two triathlons in the distant past) is this:

Shorthand for: Dead Freaking Last is better than not finishing, which is better than not starting.
Shorthand for: Dead Freaking Last is better than not finishing, which is better than not starting.

Let me state for the record that I’ve been DFL in at least one race (cyclocross), DNF in a few (got lost in two mountain bike races, got pulled in various crits, and lost steam/motivation in another), and several times DNS’ed (I signed up for races but never made it to the race or the start line). Hey, it happens.

And I am reminding myself that these DFLs, DNFs, and DNSes happened when I was 13–16 years younger. Here’s me in 2005, coming into the transition area during a triathlon.

Me in 2005, pedaling for all I’m worth as the triathlon folks yell at me to slow down going around a corner.

Fast forward to 2016, when I last did anything like a race. This one was a costume cyclocross race, and I’m dressed as a banana.

Me on bike in banana outfit in 2016, pedaling hard, but with no one around me. Hey, it's a big course... :-)
Me on bike in banana outfit in 2016, pedaling hard, but with no one around me. Hey, it’s a big course… 🙂

Full disclosure: I ran out of steam after 2 laps, so I pulled over and pretended to check my bike chain. However, I was really trying to get my breathing under control. There you go…

Honestly, this is how life is feeling these days. I am mostly making it to the start line of my day. I am not rocketing out of bed, getting the hole shot and shooting ahead of well, anyone. Nonetheless, I’m mostly not DNS’ing on workdays Yay!

But I have been DNS’ing with physical activity more than I’d like. Getting out the door, making it to the yoga studio, throwing a leg over the saddle of the bike– all of these feel a lot harder to manage. Okay, duly noted. I can pay attention to what’s going on around my DNSes and see what I want to do.

What about DNFs? Well, yes, I would say there are a bunch of projects and plans that I’ve started but not finished. And yes, a couple of them I’ve just had to cut my losses with, realizing that it’s just not going to happen. I took on too much, or overestimated my energy and underestimated the time commitment.

Of course DNF’ing happened with me before March 2020, but I’m much more aware of it these days– not just in me, but also in my students, friends and colleagues. We all run out of oomph on some projects and in some areas. It happens all the time. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be this DNF acronym. That suggests it’s kind of a regular thing. And if it’s a regular thing, then maybe it’s worth noting but not flogging ourselves about it.

And then there’s DFL: Dead Freaking Last. Honestly, at this point, in 2021, I got no worries about this one. First of all, I’m often DFL on administrative things in my job. I try not to be, but it happens often. Hey– someone’s going to be DFL every time. My view is, as long as I get it done and cross that finish line, I’m good. In terms of speed and distance and duration, DFL is also not bothering me too much. In my 221 workouts in 2021, I may be DFL on reaching 221. We shall see. But who cares? It’s a FINISH. YAY!

So, to sum up: if you’re worried about how well you are adulting these days, ask yourself:

  • Am I DNS’ing? When and how? What do I want to do instead?
  • Am I DNF”ing? When and how? What do I want to do in future about this?
  • Am I DFL’ing sometimes? Does it matter at all? No? Excellent.

11 thoughts on “Applying the terms DFL-DNF-DNS to life these days

  1. I think many of us thought life was returning to normal and have been shaken by the reality.
    My son started university in September. He is withdrawing. I guess he will be a DNF.
    None of this is as he expected. Most classes are online. There are masks everywhere. He felt alone and isolated in a new city.

    I am sad for him. He is very smart and will make a good engineer some day, but not right now.

    So he will return home and collect himself and reconsider what his life will be in 2022.

    On we go.


    1. Oh, I’m so sorry. One of my sons withdrew last year and is back in classes now. It’s very hard on them.

      1. It’s ok.
        He didn’t realize how lonely he would be in calgary.
        I keep reminding him it took me 7 years to get my first degree, and it made no impact to my career. In fact, I’m glad I enjoyed that time as I have worked for the same company for the last 25 years!

    2. I’m so sorry your son is struggling. It’s not a comfort, but I know so many college students in the same boat. Now is a terrible time for students. You’re right, he will find satisfaction and connection in his academic career. It’s the world’s fault, not his. Please tell him for me that engineering (and philosophy and history and chemistry, etc,) aren’t going anywhere. We’ll be here and will welcome him back when it’s the right time. I tell all my students this, and it’s always true.

      1. Thank you.
        It’s hard to see the disappointment, but I think he did need some maturing. He realizes now that university is hard and it requires full time dedication from day 1.

        He just isn’t capable of giving that right now.
        Maybe working , or taking something totally different at our local college, will perk him up.

        I appreciate the comment.

  2. Reading this in full helped me so much. It made me rethink everything I’ve been going through this semester. This first semester of being back in person for college has been so hard for me. Learning online during COVID’s peak was very difficult as well, and all I wanted was to go back to school in person. I thought learning in person again would solve all my problems. Never did I think it would be this hard to readjust. Everything seems to be moving so fast, but so slow as well. I can barley keep up with my assignments, my motivation is almost nonexistent. The idea of DFL>DNF>DNS is really helping me realize that is it okay to struggle. It is okay to have bad days, and even days when you don’t get to start a project. I’m really trying, as I’ve expressed to most of my professors. This is just all really hard but I know I can come up from this, even if I come in DFL.

    1. Thanks for this, Sarah. It is okay to struggle, and you’re not alone. We know you’re trying, and we’re not going anywhere. We’re here to work with you, and there will be satisfaction and enjoyment to come.

  3. Reading this in full helped me so much. It really made me rethink what I thought of myself since I’ve been struggling so horribly this semester. Going back to college in person this semester has been so hard for me. Learning online during COVID’s peak was difficult as well, and all I wanted was to go back to in person learning. I thought learning in person again would solve all my problems. Sadly, this just wasn’t the case. I never thought going back to in person learning would be such a big readjustment for me. I can barley keep up with my assignments and my motivation to get things done is almost nonexistent. It’s really awful actually. I find myself questioning the decisions I make regarding my work constantly. I have felt like a failure, and the feeling hurts. The idea of DFL>DNF>DNS has really helped me realize that it is completely okay to struggle. It is okay to have bad days and it is okay to sometimes even experience DNS. Your thoughts and feelings throughout this blog really helped me feel better, so I want to thank you for that. I definitely needed to read this. I know I am capable and I know I can only go up from here, even if I come in DFL.

  4. I relate so hard to this post. Thank you for writing it. I too am just making it to the starting line of each day, and NOT making it to the starting line of lots of my planned activity (notably running — at least once or twice a week I plan to run and then I do not run. That’s fine but it’s out of character and I blame the pandemic).

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