(A few old racing pics from my early running years)
In one of my previous blog posts, The Thief of Joyous Running, I questioned whether comparison and ego improved running performance:
“I’m sure there is someone out 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…”
If I were to add to this now, I’d include that this is a more painful way to compete and live. Each win or loss proves how one “measures up” to others on some arbitrary scale of self-worth.
I thought about what I wrote in my previous blog long after I wrote the words. I knew my bias and what I wanted the answer to be, and I figured that because I did not compete on an elite level, I might not have the answer. Scott Jurek almost turned my bias in his new book, North: Finding My Way on the Appalachian Trail. In one chapter (and as I researched this I found out he has said this before) he mentions that when he feels his drive is coming back, his want to push through the pain, is when he felt his ego coming back. I was hoping he would come back to this at the end of the book, after he broke down and became a shell of his former self, 19lbs lighter and barely cohesive. Vulnerable. But he doesn’t mention it again. What he does mention are the times he wanted to quit, but his friends urged him on. He had made a commitment to his wife Jenny, and he wanted to reach Katahdin with her. Did ego push him through? It didn’t seem like it, it felt like something deeper, but I can’t say for sure. If I run into him in Boulder one day, I’ll have to ask.*
Then, I was listening to the Run this World podcast, where Nicole DeBoom interviewed confidence coach, Christen Shefchunas. At one point during the conversation they start talking about ego and Christen says “The bigger the ego, the more there is to hide.” Bam. Let that one sink in. There’s probably a few ways to look at that statement, but the direction I’m inspecting is the fear part. What is it that one is trying to hide and why? In competition, that answer I’ve heard most commonly from those willing to be open is a fear of not being good enough. Or, put in another way, the ego finds a way to get bigger, identifying most with which one has been prove successful at, because of a fear of lack.
In a bit of a sidetrack, I also want to state the obvious: I have a blog. Doesn’t that seem a bit egotistical?
Maybe. But there are two parts. When I started this blog a little over a year ago, my primary reasons included a want for a creative outlet, catharsis in sharing, and hope that I could use my words to help others. The last part could also be looked at in another way, that in my “special-ness” I had something important and worthwhile to say that people should read. Honestly, that part is still in me. I can feel its leaden weight in my chest as I write this. But when I re-read the words I laugh at them, it seems silly. There is a sense of detachment. Awareness of the ego is often the first step in overcoming it.
So then the question turns to “Can a full-filled person, a person secure in oneself, race fiercely? Or, out of the race scene, be competitive and succeed in other areas of life?”
In her book, On the Wings of Mercury, Olympian Lorraine Moller tells a story of how she “threw love bombs” at her fellow competitors. Now these love bombs were obviously imaginary, but essentially she was wishing the best to her competitors while racing as hard as she could.
And with Moller’s example in mind, I propose a better way.
I call this better way, a way in which racing and achieving is not grounded in ego or comparison, compassionate competing. No, not revolutionary, but let me break the words down for you, which I hope will set off a little spark.
As my sister Sandi and I have both mentioned before in previous blogs, the Latin meaning of the word compete is actually to seek together. What I recently discovered is the Latin meaning of the word compassion is to suffer with (by observing another’s pain). So when we put the words together to form compassionate competing, we get to suffer with while seeking together. In my own interpretation of this, what I have come to conclude is that when we see another runner working hard, suffering as she pushes her own limits, we are inspired to push ourselves harder. And together, we push past barriers that take us beyond our perceived limits and onto the possibilities of our true potential.
On our grander level, we can compete compassionately in the same way. When we bring in our own true selves and personal fierceness to our everyday lives and the communities in which we live, we are no longer fighting against each other but a world that has become too complacent. We can have the strength to look honestly at another’s pain, recognize any injustice, take action, and transcend beyond the (hateful and negative) perceived limits of the world we live in.
In my first draft of this blog post, I wrote that I still didn’t have the answer to whether or not ego played a necessary role in competing and winning. Then I realized that wasn’t true. The idea that I couldn’t have an answer because I am currently not competing was also my own, scared-of-not-being-good-enough-ego planting false thoughts in my head. Intuitively, and I having an flipping strong intuition when I’m courageous enough to trust it, I always knew the answer. Ego and comparison do not enhance but limit our best performances, our best selves. They create pressure, fear, and take away our energy. Heart, and a desire to explore the spectacularness of the human spirit (in the midst of group), is the answer.
(Supergirl and I climbing together, reaching new heights, and discovering places of beauty not always found in the flat land of complacency.)
* Scott on my rollerblades on the Boulder Creek Path while he was running and pushing one of his little ones. Totally missed my opportunity!