We’re all in this together

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“The most important thing I learned [from running] is that there is only one runner in this race, and that is me.” – George Sheehan
Comparison can be deadly.

It’s to blame for all sorts of bad stuff.

Trust me, I know. In general, I’ve wasted time comparing myself to others’:

  • Abilities.
  • Personalities.
  • Talents.
  • Looks
  • Intelligence.
  • “Success” (as the world defines it).
  • Fill in the blank ________________.

We tend to assume we’d be happier if we had that person’s sunny personality, sense of style, talent, bank balance, great job, beautiful house, smart kids, well-trained pet … you know what I’m talking about.

Whatever is wrong in my life, I think it can be solved by changing some external aspect of it. (It’s probably why I get my hair highlighted every few months, why I have too many shoes, why my house-clutter bothers me so much.)

But running – and all the challenges and triumphs that come with it – has taught me a few things about comparison. So much of what is running for me involves other people. I not only run with people, I read books, magazines and websites about running, I listen to podcasts about running (resource list below), and – perhaps most importantly – I live with a runner whose passion for the sport rivals that of any elite runner I’ve ever watched, read about or listened to.

Comparing yourself to others (runners, writers, singers, entrepreneurs) can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can draw inspiration from their triumphs and their ability to articulate what the activity has meant to them and what they’ve learned from it.

After my heart surgery last year, I ran across this quote from Olympic marathoner and all-around-awesome runner chick Shalane Flanagan, and I pinned it to the wall of my cubicle at work:

ShalaneQuoteHeadUpHeartStrong
“Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” – Shalane Flanagan

(Until then, I had it all wrong: I thought it was, “Keep your head down; keep looking for loose change!” 🙂 )

Comparison has its pluses, but, for the most part, it simply ties us up in knots. Try running a mile all twisted up and see how far you get! Or write a blog post (letter to the editor, business memo, whatever) and see if it moves anyone to positive action. More likely, your readers will be so distracted by how hard you were trying that they miss the message.

At the very least, comparison is unproductive. It keeps us from reaching our goals, from fulfilling our purpose.

And what are we really trying to accomplish with comparisons? If you’re like me, you want to move forward in life, to progress, to change, to grow, to become an all-around better person. I want to MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

I will continue to learn from others’ successes and failures so that I’ll be more likely to succeed, less likely to fail.

But my own individual success (and how I define it) depends largely on my uniqueness. On being the person the Creator of the universe made me. On depending on Him and trusting the plan He has for my life (using HIS criteria for success). He’s interested in my interests – He hasn’t written a cookie cutter Plan for Suzy that will crumble if I stir in my own ingredients, infuse it with my individuality or use my own tools to make it all come together.

He is the author of my success, my joy and my ultimate purpose. He gave me those tools, talents and interests.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath” (Deuteronomy 8:18, Holy Bible, New Living Translation).

An antidote to the paralysis of comparison is gratitude. Listen here to Deena Kastor, former Arkansas Razorback, Olympian and holder of several world records, who says:

“When I’ve traveled and run with people around [the world], I just try to adopt their greatest strengths, and I have so many people to thank for that.”

She’s about to publish a book, and she said she could spend 300 pages just thanking people.

Here are a few things I’m grateful that God gave me:

  1. Strong legs (even though I’m a slow runner and have a bum knee that nudges me even slower sometimes).
  2. A strong heart, physically (especially now that I’ve had repairs done!).
  3. A strong heart, figuratively (He keeps me singing!).
  4. A fabulous running community in my small town.
  5. A great husband who loves to run and loves to share his vast knowledge of the sport – and whose (sometimes annoying) enthusiasm for running inevitably rubs off on people! He volunteers as a cross-country coach at the high school just because he stinkin’ loves to run and loves to teach others to love it. He also gets called upon often to help folks in the community who want to put on fundraising walks and runs, and he gives of his time generously (sometimes too generously, I think, but still). I am so blessed to have Bruce Oakley in my life.
  6. A cause to run for. I train with and raise money for Team Challenge of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, because I want to wipe the poo out of Bruce’s disease. Even though I hate the fundraising part (asking for money), I love the idea that I will be a part of the someday-cure. And they don’t care how fast I run. My teammates and I share the dream of curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and that’s what binds us together.
  7. A desire and a modicum of … dare we say … talent in writing. (Passion and persistence more than raw talent, I would say.) My desire is to influence others to become the people God created them to be – to fulfill their purpose on this earth and to find joy in the journey … just as I’m learning to do, step by sometimes-faltering step.
  8. Courage. I grew up extremely, backwardly shy. (My poor mom.) But through a lot of prayer and determination, I’ve come out of my shell, stopped thinking about myself so much, and consider myself “recovering” (still working on it but much progress has been made). I step out and reach out when I’m uncomfortable sometimes. Only when I draw strength from the Lord can I do that. And, every time I do it, I gain strength for the next time. (It’s not about me, after all.) Some folks who’ve known me for just a few years would never believe I was shy!
  9. An awesome family. They don’t always understand me, but they put up with me – and even love me. Go figure!
  10. The ability to persevere. Even though I’ll never win the Pulitzer for my writing, will never have my photographs published in National Geographic and more than likely (I mean, like, a 99.99 percent probability) will never win a first-place trophy in a running event, I keep at it. You see, I believe all those pithy quotes about how challenges make us stronger. (I’m living proof.) Like this one, which is not pithy but insightful:

“I think anything is possible, and running has certainly taught me, time and time again, that, even when we fall short of our goals, sometimes those lessons are the greatest for us to grow stronger on the other end. So I embrace challenges as if they were a gift to a stronger side of me. … Sometimes it takes a challenge or a hurdle in the way to make us refocus and figure out how to grow” – Deena Kastor.

I believe in the God of the universe, and I believe He has a supreme purpose for my life. My desire is to show all those in my sphere of influence that He has a purpose for their lives, too. And it’s a purpose that will give them joy and courage, if they grasp His hand along the journey.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” – Isaiah 40:31, NLT.

The George Sheehan quote at the top of this post could be misinterpreted as “Every man for himself.” But what it really means is that comparison will keep you from finishing, or at least finishing well. And we all want to finish well, don’t we?

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” – II Timothy 4:7-8, NLT.

The journey is easier in community. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re competing with them – and not in a good way. Community is best when we’re looking out for one another’s interests, when we see each other as partners, when we hold one another up. It’s one of my favorite things about the running community, one of my favorite things about my church family.

Life is hard, but it can be easier with friends. Running the race together is so much more fun.

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“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other … but to be with each other.” – Christopher McDougall

“Hey, whadya say we both be independent together, huh?”

– Hermey the Dentist, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

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RESOURCES FOR RUNNING, AND FOR RUNNING THIS MARATHON CALLED LIFE:

  • Runner Academy and Everyday Runners podcasts (very inspirational, motivational and informative, whether you’re a novice or a long-time runner). Find both here.
  • Runner’s World magazine. Lots of good info, stories and columns. My favorite: Marc Parent’s “The Newbie Chronicles.” He makes me laugh. Enough said.
  • Motivational quotes from Runner’s World.
  • White River Roadrunners club. If you live in north-central Arkansas or even southern Missouri, check us out.
  • Women Run Arkansas. We have more than 50 Women Can Run/Walk clinics around Arkansas every spring. Only 10 weeks from couch to 5k! Coach Bruce and I have made some great friends through WRA.
  • The Holy Bible, via BibleGateway.

What motivates you? Post a comment and let us know.

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