I recently wrote about comparing myself, specifically to other runners. I explored how this was something that cropped up in my life over and over again. Not with runners per se, but in many other areas of my life. And like one of those Whac-A-Mole games, when it disappeared from one part of my life, it tended to show up at another. Lately, it was my fellow running companions.
And then I had a Friday night that seemed to dissipate all that. I don’t recall if I mentioned it, but one thought I had as I rode back home from my little inner dialogue was that I no longer envied, resented or was jealous of all those folks whose paces and distances I coveted. It was gone. The faces of those I really had it in for crossed past me like a slide show and I felt nothing but love and healthy admiration for them.
So what the hell happened?
A great shift in my perception is what happened.
I had a conversation with my step-sponsor and friend John last night, catching up on what’s been going on for me lately. He was able to direct my thoughts in ways I hadn’t thought of and had me speechless at some of the things he extracted from what I told him. When it came to the comparison game, he came straight to the point.
John: Who the hell are you comparing yourself to, anyway?
Me: What do you mean?
John: Just that. Who are you comparing yourself to?
Me: Umm…I don’t know. Maybe an idealized version of who I think I should be?
John: Exactly. You need to let go of expectations.
Me: I thought I was doing that already.
John: How has that been working out for you then?
He had me. And that is what I had been chewing on for some time. What I did tell him was something that had occurred to me after that Friday night. And this is what I have come to see, when it comes to me comparing myself to the other runners:
1) I am making broad assumptions about other people.
2) I am focusing on a very slim part of other people’s lives (times, paces, distances, etc. – the numbers) and making those things bigger than life.
3) I am downplaying any kind of significance of mine.
4) I am allowing ego to rule the roost.
5) I am trying to play God.
Sounds a bit heavy handed maybe, but that’s how it plays out for a cat like me. And yet, it is very simple:
1) I am assuming that everyone out there have terrific and wonderful lives free from any distress or hurt. I am putting others on a pedestal which is unfair to them, and to me. I am equating (and this is a big one for me) that a better runner = a better person. I am judging others. I am painting a broad picture on very little information. I am assuming everyone truly does have a better life than I do, simply because of their running prowess.
2) I see only what my ego / self-pity wants to see. Unreachable goals without context. I have to remember that all these folks work hard at their running. They are committed, loyal and passionate. They sacrifice a lot and have focus. I also have to remember that most of the people I admire don’t have children. Or are younger. They have more disposable income and time. I have two young children. I don’t have the time or money to do what a lot of these folks do in their pursuit of fitness levels. I had my shot twenty years ago and blew it by doing the one thing that I did spend time and money on and was good at – drinking. No even splits on a beer run.
And at the same time, I have to turn the glass around a bit. Who is to say that some of these people wouldn’t give their left arm to be a parent? Perhaps they are childless not by choice but by medical reasons? Who’s to say that there is something in my own life that they admire and would like to have? It’s easy for me to cast dispersions when I don’t have any part of the picture except a skewed one.
3) As someone here mentioned a while back, if they had started running and then 13 months later ran a marathon, they would be broadcasting it everywhere! And what did I do? Mope. Lizard brain at work. I am slow in that I don’t recognize these accomplishments until way after they are done. I am too busy living in the past or trying to foresee the future to enjoy what I am doing or just did. I told John that yes, it was pretty cool to do what I did. It is only now that I see that. I need to knock the pedestals down and to lift myself up now and then to see that we are all right-sized.
4) Comparing myself to others only satisfies one thing – my ego. It’s twisted of course – we usually think of ego as this proud majestic thing. But inverted, it takes on nefarious faces – self-pity, perfectionism, martyrdom, etc. And that is what John told me – that I play into that perfectionism part of me too much. Ego stroking. I spend too much time pointing out this and that instead of just being. Just running. Just allowing things to unfold as they should be.
5) Well I wouldn’t be in this jam if I weren’t playing God – trying to manipulate the outcome of things and others to suit me and me alone. Seems silly to say that something as simple as comparing myself to others is equal to me trying to be the Great I Am, but it’s the truth. And as John told me, as long as I let someone other than Paul run the show, things will work out fine. The Paul Plan didn’t go too well, if memory serves me. John likes to remind me of that as well.
So who the hell am I comparing myself to? I told John that I was tired of being tired of playing that game. I thought that when I took booze out of my life that I would find out who I was. That sort of “finding myself” remains elusive to me in some ways. I fear being me because I don’t know who I am, and yet I don’t know who I am so how the hell can I be afraid of that? Oh Paul, there you go overthinking things again.
When it comes down to it, I see that in the running game, and in all other parts of my life, it’s only me against me. Mano y mano. I finally have started to understand this, in my heart and not just intellectually. I don’t covet the numbers I see now. Or covet as much. I don’t make (as many!) assumptions about others. I see the running community the way I see so many other tight-knit ones (like recovery, for example) – supportive, engaging, encouraging, helpful and funny. I have to see myself as just another one of them. No better, no worse. I am starting to see that now.
And I know that I am getting this because I now can see how successful and fantastic others are doing and I am not envious, jealous or resentful. I am truly happy for them. I know they earned it. I have things I have earned too. And while I can’t necessarily chart them on a map or computer graph, I know they are there. When my kids run to me and hug me, or when someone thanks me for something I have done for them, that’s something. Better than it used to be. Small steps.
How and what others do – that’s their thing. Not my circus, not my monkeys. And for runners – same thing. Not my Asics, not my Brooks. I am a more of a New Balance and Saucony guy anyway. Whatever works. Because in the end the only person I am racing is me. And I am (almost) starting to like that guy.