Run Your Own Race
I’ve heard this piece of advice most of my life. But it’s never really sunk in until recently.
Social media makes it almost impossible to run your own race. It forces comparisons in that way they talk about in recovery circles when you are comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides.
Recently, I wrote a book and it’s helped me understand this much better — even though it’s been a painful lesson. A lot of writers run. I won’t call myself a runner, per se, but I’m a “mostly runs” kind of runner. This is why I run in the dark or in basements on a treadmill. No one needs to see my practice.
That’s true with writing. My writing practice is mostly in the dark. Solitary and often difficult. Many days, I wonder why I keep doing it.
I feel that way about my attempts at running. My friend, Sarah is a marathon runner and I am in awe of her ability to train, practice, and finish the races she does. A “gobble wobble” 5K on Thanksgiving a few years ago is as close as I’ve gotten to a marathon. But that’s ok because that was my race and I ran it and finished it. It made me even more proud of what Sarah’s able to do and so be truly happy for her achievement.
How Social Media & Social Comparison Become Toxic
But that’s not true with my writing practice. I’ve never been able to run my own race — or to borrow the metaphor — write my own book. Give me a few minutes and I’m back on Twitter, comparing myself. A few minutes later, I’m over on Amazon looking at my depressing stats. Then, I’m on Facebook and Instagram and Linked In where I see all my writer friends living their best lives.
If I really want to poison myself, I look at their Amazon rank. And then I usually find a lot of chocolate and eat it as an antidote. So now, I’m puffy, less able to move, and strung out from a sugar crash.
Repeat and repeat. It’s like the classic Buddhist story of knowing there’s a hole in the road where I need to walk, but still managing to fall into it every day. True healing — true mental health — comes when you become aware of your pattern of falling into the hole. Only then can you break the pattern and avoid the hole.
When I practiced last night, I thought about my pattern. Seeing that pattern for what it was and accepting it as a real thing that I sign up for every day. And it came to me that if I think about running my own race, I’m maybe thinking about it in a less helpful way.
Track & Field As a Helpful Visualization of Your Process
If I think about it like true track and field events, it’s better. True track and field meets have simultaneous events going on. For example, while people are running sprints, others are doing pole vaults or shot put. Same as when people are running marathons in the Olympics.
I feel like I’m in a marathon and trying to pull myself off the track to try pole vaulting or getting jealous because I’m not a pole vaulter. And the more I watch the pole vaulters, the more badly I’ll feel about myself because I’m not getting all that pole-vaulting love.
I may as well say the same thing about myself as a runner. I’m not a sprinter at all and never was. I like running for a long time even though you have to be kind of crazy to do it and it’s lonely and it takes a long time.
If I tell myself to run my own race, then I’m telling myself to stay on my long distance course. The victory in long distance running is finishing. It’s really not about time except to beat your own. Small improvements over your own statistics.
Sprints, on the other hand, are about beating someone and being the fastest. That’s not my event. I can applaud those for whom sprinting is not only achievable but winnable. They shine. They’re amazing — built like gazelles and run with a grace I don’t have.
I’ve begun to think that I need to view my writing the same way. I’m a long distance writer. I’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s lonely. But it’s my event. I’m not a sprinter. The more popular books in my genre are written by sprinters, so to speak. And good for them. Shine on, magic people.
I’m after something else. Not stats. I’m just doing a little bit better as a writer every day. And so I wrote this for me — and you too if you have the same trouble.
Run your own race, excel at your own event. Beat your own time and don’t look at anyone else’s stats because they don’t matter for your race.