Run Your Own Race

Good morning and welcome to A New Sunday.    Today, we’re going to talk about comparison thinking.  

When we make comparisons, we’re making sense of the world by noticing differences. It’s just one way we fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Focusing on differences helps us to understand relationships.  For example, analysts like to compare gross national products, market capitalizations, stock prices, and so on, to get a picture of the changes in the economy.

Comparisons are core to the social experience as well and by themselves, they’re not necessarily good or bad.

But in our personal lives there is a danger to making comparisons.  The danger is when differences are viewed as deficiencies.  Comparisons become a competition, which means we’re either winners or losers. 

Consider our own reactions to a friends’ success.  They buy a new home or receive a promotion at work.  How do we react?  We may be ashamed to admit it, but often our private reaction is jealousy or envy.  Just as the first person we look for in photos is ourselves, we understand our place in the world by comparing our life circumstances to those around us.  Do we measure up?  Are we ahead or behind?  Too often, we feel good or bad about our own lives for no other reason than we believe we compare well or not well with others

Technology raises the stakes by heightening our awareness of our position in the race.  Every aspect of our social status is measured, tracked, recorded and shared.  How many friends we have on Facebook, our followers on Twitter, and even the value of our home -- this is all public information. 

Our private information, too is subject to critical comparisons. As a parent, you are reminded at every pediatric visit how your child’s height and weight compare to “normal.” Again, we look at our numbers to see if we’re measuring up. 

To the world, we project our best side, our ideal life - cherry picking the information we share to our networks. Our public image is not the true story, but a highlight reel meant to impress others. Because while we’re comparing ourselves to our friends, they’re comparing themselves to us. 

In this world, how can you not feel inadequate?  Bombarded by news of other’s achievements, practically in real time, you can start to feel like there’s something lacking in you, when in fact, you are fine. Think about it this way: you are exactly the same now as you were the instant before you entertained the thought that you are not enough.

This is craziness, but we do it every day. We try to be like someone else rather than understanding that we are uniquely wonderful. If your friend is tall, do you struggle and strive to be taller?  Of course not.  What exactly is the perfect height anyway?  Similarly, how many square feet is the perfect home?  To compare is to see yourself as a pale reflection of another.  

In the words of the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti, 

"When there is comparison, there is no love."   

The imagined judgements of invisible observers now turn the crank of your life.  You unconsciously, or even consciously, live your life to quell those critics.  You run faster and faster toward a destination that’s not your choosing, but you feel compelled to push yourself in that direction because you feel inadequate. You feel you have something to prove.  

The tragedy is that by measuring ourselves against an external yardstick, we give up our opportunity to step onto our true paths - to live up to our true potential.  The person you could become is suffocated by comparison thinking. 

Clayton Christensen, the acclaimed Harvard Business School professor, recently wrote,

"If your children gain their priorities and values from other people … whose children are they?"  

The same is true of our lives.  If all our striving is for the purpose of looking enviable in the social mirror, then is our life really our own?  One of the great challenges of our lifetimes is to choose our own path.  

What race are you running?

It's so easy to get caught up in someone else's definition of success, but how do you measure success? Are you aiming to be the smartest in your class?  The most financially successful?  The best parent?  Maybe your game is the alphabet soup of job titles or degrees.  Whatever race you run, be sure you care about the destination.  In the words of the late Stephen Covey, 

"Many people climb the ladder of success only to find out at the end of their life, that their ladder is leaning against the wrong wall."

What race are you running?

To live a meaningful life, aspirations must come from your soul.  Recognize your race and have the courage to run it, even though it might not look like anyone else’s.  Only then will you develop the capacity to find true meaning in your life and truly love others.  

I invite you to consider the question seriously this week.  Look at every aspect of your life and all the roles you play.  Notice when you’re comparing yourself or your family to others.  Who you become is a choice, and you can start shaping your authentic future right now.  It’s never too late to change lanes and pick the race you were meant to run.

What race are you running?

Further Reading

How Will You Measure Your Life?
By Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon
Truth Is a Pathless Land
By Jiddu Krishnamurti

Photo CreditKevin Conor Keller