While this blog strays away a bit from my usual posts for this site as it is running related, I chose to write this anyway after 1) my sister suggested I write this and 2) running is often a microcosm and metaphor for life. So even if you’re not a runner, I trust that you will find some meaning in my words.
“Hey Sandi…?” Followed by a slightly awkward glance as the runner passes in the opposite direction. In the brief moment our paths cross, I usually give a nod or small smile. Should I say “hi”, tell him I’m not Sandi, or not say anything? By the time I think this over, I usually end up with the third option and just let the runner go by.
Usually, when someone calls me Sandi on the trail, I take this as a compliment. You see, my twin sister is badass. I mean, she is fast. And strong. Like about to represent the USA in the World Mountain Championships in Poland next month strong and fast. And sometimes I just leave it at that. Other times, I let my joy of trail running be stolen. Who’s the thief you ask? Myself and my habit of comparison.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” *
Those words have held true for my most of my life.
Here’s a look at my thought process and downward spiral:
“I must not be that slow if they thought I was Sandi.”
“And maybe I’m not that much heavier.”
“Or maybe they think Sandi got slow and gained weight.”
“Why can’t I be as fast and skinny as Sandi? We have the same genes!”
And so it goes. Ugly right? Makes one feel kinda crappy.
Why does this make me and, probably you, feel crappy? Well one, my guess (or at least my hope so I don’t feel totally alone in this habit) is that you’ve had similar thoughts. Second, when we compare or judge, it is usually a reflection of ourselves. It has to do with our own lack of self-worth, feelings of not being good enough. (So please, give yourself some compassion here! You mostly have a wound from a past trauma or situation that made you feel like this. Comparison and judgement are often the ego’s idea of self-protection. It’s of course a false form of protection, but it helps to know this so we can learn and change the habit.)
I can’t tell you how many times comparison has been a dark cloud in my life. I’ve compared myself to my classmates in grad school ‘They’re so smart! How did I get in?”, relationships “He’s so intelligent, handsome, and skinnier than me. Why is he with me?” (that lead me to unconsciously act like a jerk that lead to the breakup), and even to all of the pro-athletes in Boulder that work out for hours each day and have bodies of gods and goddesses.
The funny thing is, when I truly reflect on where I am in life right now, I’m happy with where I am and with who I am. I’m about to enter my 3rd year of graduate school in Naropa’s Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program and work for SAGE Running part-time. I don’t have time or energy to work out for hours and have 6-pack abs. Which is totally fine! I rather be working to become an awesome therapist! I also have a wonderful partner who loves me and will call me out when I start to become “Judgey, McJudgey” (his words, not mine). My body is still exhausted from the extreme exercise and dieting in my younger years, but now I can still run for a few hour in the mountains with my dog. That is happiness for me. Life is truly amazing!
So recently, when I went on a 3-day solo as part of my Rites of Passage journey for my Transitions class (I know, I know- I did that for school! Again, totally awesome.) In addition to going into my 3-day solo with two intentions I wanted to honor for myself, I also considered the piece of me that I wanted to let go of. I decided the piece of me that I wanted to let go of was my comparing self. It may have served me in some ways over the years, tried to protect me, but I was ready to say “thank you, but I never want to see you again.” I can’t say what went on during my 3 day solo, as I feel it is a bit too sacred to write in a blog, but what I can say is I focused on loving and honoring myself. I found my beauty, deep within in me and in my body-including my curves and touching thighs. Part of what I found was love for myself, which pushed out any need to compare myself to others.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that my comparing mind is gone for good. It likes to sneak back in here and there. But I’m on the lookout and ready to call it out when it rears it’s ugly head. Like today, when I was beginning a run with my pup at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We were headed up a rocky trail that had a lot more vertical than I expected, and I was hiking. There was an instant where I thought “I’m sure a lot of other runners could run up this.” Then, the magic came. I said to myself “Who cares? Let’s just enjoy this time in nature with your best friend. If you end up hiking a lot, then you just get to spend more time outside! And I did hike a lot. And I smiled a lot. Which I actually think helped me save some energy to run at the end, in between my pup’s creek baths. It was a beautiful, joyous morning.
I’m sure there is someone our there thinking “But comparison is a motivator, it makes you want to get better.” And maybe it does. My issue with comparison in running is the “beat the other guy/woman” piece. The ego steps in. I’m not enlightened enough to say that comparison and ego are always bad, but at least from what I’ve witnessed, ego and comparison might help get you ahead for a bit, but it doesn’t last. In looking at elite runners, the ones who continue to win are the ones who have an internal motivator, the ones who continue to find joy in what they do. Looking at all runners, the ones who are often able to run for years are the ones who can do so with less comparison and with more focus on the process. They have an inner drive, a gratitude for their own ability, and a sense of play whenever they get outside.
With that being said, I’m definitely not perfect. But when those clouds of comparison begin block out my light, I’m learning to see the thoughts for what they are and bust my rays right through them. Then I get back to playing with my dog.
*Okay, maybe comparison isn’t always bad: https://medium.com/thrive-global/roosevelt-was-wrong-comparison-is-not-the-thief-of-joy-9e490cd6225