If there is a character defect of mine that likes to weigh me down, it’s that of comparing myself to others. Yes, I have written about this before, and I am sorry to say, I will probably write about it again. And perhaps again after that.
You’ve been warned.
I am not sure why, but there is something about comparing myself to others that keeps bringing me back to pain over and over again. Regardless of how injurious it is to me, on all fronts, I find myself settling into my default position of “not good enough”. It’s somewhat hardwired in me, and even with the introspective work I do and speaking to others about it and praying about it, it still floats to the surface. It’s emotional and mental deadwood that keeps washing up on my shores.
I understand all the anti-comparison thoughts and arguments – on the surface. I understand how comparing oneself to another only puts me at emotional harm. I understand that we are unique and that there is no other like us and that we only need compare ourselves to ourselves, and that’s it. I get it all – intellectually. At heart and soul level, not so much. At the level where it counts most, I still fumble around in the dark. And I keep bumping into walls. No light.
This compulsion to compare myself has been really revved up in my running life. Runners are fantastic folk, and outside of the recovery community, I haven’t met a more welcoming and supporting group of folks. But runners don’t often speak of runs as being “easy” or “fun” or “pleasant”. In a technological-based world, we have raw hard data. And we share that with one another. We often display what distance / pace / heart rate / elevation grade, etc. we have recently endured. What personal bests we achieved that week. Pictures of those GPS watches on our wrists are common on social media. It’s not about competition, but about documentation, for the most part (and perhaps some humble bragging too.)
So when I see all those numbers, I immediately mentally put my own numbers up for scrutiny. And for a slow running dude like me, I almost always end up holding the short-straw. And then the whipping happens – “Why are you bothering to do this?”, “Who do you think you are wanting to be like them?”, “They were born to do this – you weren’t”, etc. It’s an internal and self-directed version of a prison shower beating scene.
Cue the Facebook inspirational quotes and memes:
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Run your own pace.
Be yourself – everyone else is taken.
The only one you’re in competition with is you.
And while they come from a place of conventional wisdom, they fail to quell that deep dark place in me that still screams out “you run like a pregnant yak”. I see folks who were at once my speed now bolting ahead, darting and flitting about with the gazelles ahead. I see people running their first marathon and crushing my own time by enviable amounts. I hear the endless chatter of Boston [Marathon] Qualifying and how cool that is. Then I watch my plodding times and wonder what it is that I am missing. Genetics? Mental toughness? Competitive fire?
Well we all know ego loves this kind of thing. Self-pity is a drug and my own mind has an endless supply if I play into it. It’s my pusher. I was reading a post last night by a fellow runner who spoke about similar feelings held by her. It was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in feeling like this. Perhaps the fact that I have been sidelined for more than a week plays into this whole thing. Fear of missing out is no doubt at play (and a topic for another post!)
And of course ego and mind collude to bring me to extremes – maybe I should quit running for good. I should quite my running club (which I stopped running with because I am too embarrassed to run with any more). I should stop pretending that I am a runner and just sit in a corner and eat cake (mmmmm….cake.) Which I understand to be ridiculous, but it can feel as real as the chair I am sitting in right now.
The idea of comparing myself to others is something I wish I could let go of, but I struggle with it. As good ‘ol Dr. Phil would ask – what are you getting out of this? Well, healthy doses of ego-satisfying self-pity. I get to stay frozen and to play small. I get to satisfy that part of me that still think he’s a piece of shit. It plays into the darkness that once ruled my life and can again if I don’t continue to shine light into the shadowy crevices. What am I getting out of this, doctor? A lot of self-inflected gun shot wounds and then wonder why I am bleeding all over the nice carpet.
And look, I get it – I am comparing my behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels (oops, another Instagram winning quote!) and I get that I am comparing my first chapter with someone else’s chapter 20 (okay, last one, I promise.) I would say the same thing to someone else who came to me with the same issues. But to take my own advice, to feel it in my bones, down the chambers of my heart? Not at all.
Runners aren’t the problem. Running isn’t the problem. If I took up knitting, I would be doing the same things before I knew it, wondering why my sweaters weren’t as good as so-and-so’s and why my stitching isn’t so clean and tight as others. I would wear my own knitted mittens as badges of shame rather than accomplishment. In the end, the problem is me. Until I cultivate a healthier sense of self-worth and self-value, I will continue to play this game of “let’s twist this deeper”.
So for now I just do my best to keep the ugly thoughts at bay. I have days where these thoughts are fleeting. I have others where they consume me and it goes past the running into well-tread territories. I stay open as to why I self-flagellate and try to listen to that voice that tells me that I am okay. That I am okay. That I am OKAY. And then hopefully one day I will embrace it. I will make it my own.