I can only think of three phrases that, at this stage in my life, come into my head on a daily basis and remind me where to step next. This is one of them.
I read it about three or four years ago for the first time. In my memory, it was a Carrie Fisher quote, but in looking for a link to share with you, the only article I can find that could possibly be the one I recall is actually Marlo Thomas writing about her dad, Danny Thomas. I don’t really remember if this is where I read the phrase or not, but I do remember where I was, and what I was doing.
We were in our old house–not the rental, the house that was on the market for four years and finally sold before we moved to the rental. I was in our bedroom, where my side of the bed was furthest from the door and closest to the large window. Light was filtering in through the blinds, late afternoon sun making cabana stripes across the small candlestick table where I kept my books and water glass by the bed. I was leaning against the mattress–which is super high off the floor–and leafing through a magazine. I’m sure I was avoiding folding laundry, or something equally mundane. I came across an article (I still swear it was Carrie Fisher, but that’s not relevant to the impact it had on me) and I read this phrase.
My eyes continued through the rest of the story, but none of it registered. I had one of those rare moments where you hear or read something so TRUE that I actually heard the sound of a bell, and the rest of the page became squiggly little lines as the message of that single phrase worked its way into my brain. Run your own race. Run your own race.
I am competitive by nature. We all are, as humans, and for whatever reason, women of my generation have been trained or enculturated to be even more competitive than women of other ages or men of our own. We compete with one another in appalling ways, and we compete with ourselves far beyond our own detriment. I can’t even talk about teaching sewing without addressing the topic of perfectionism and self-punishment from my experiences with women my age who expect such unrealistic things of themselves–like perfect seams the very first time they sit at a sewing machine. It’s absurd the rigors to which we subject ourselves and one another, all in the name of expectation.
Something about this metaphor–running a race–links back to the whole idea of competition and perfectionism and expectation to me. I hate running. HATE it. I don’t like to breathe hard, and I don’t like pain, and I don’t like to sweat. I don’t particularly care for activities that require stretchy clothes. I hate running shoes and I hate shin splints. I hate the way my face gets all red and splotchy when I’m out of breath. And I really, really hate that I’m NOT GOOD AT IT. Competing with a runner who is talented and natural at the sport would be inane for me, an unreachable goal–I will never be an Olympian, or even a marathoner, partly because it isn’t my make-up and partly because it isn’t my desire. We all know what it is that makes me push back on that, though, that makes me want to say, “Sure I can, if I just apply myself and work hard enough!”
It’s competition, pure and simple. It’s an admirable and sincere wish to push through and triumph over the odds–which is awesome and to be applauded. I love me an underdog. But underdogs are GOOD at the thing they are fighting to succeed at doing, they love it and have passion for it, they just haven’t been recognized for it yet. Underdogs are Rocky training to fight. Not Rocky training to bake. Rocky was running his own race, with a heart full of love.
We love what we’re good at, and hate what we’re not. You can argue that humans are made to be competitive in this way, that if we have someone to run against, we’ll run faster. I would argue that there is always someone at the front of that pack, one person setting the pace and leading the others along. And if you are running with the group, maybe you are running faster because you’re matching their pace and pushing beyond what you would do individually–but you’re a follower. By definition. You’re keeping pace–literally–with those around you, no thought of your own goal, no thought of your own well-being, no thought for those who rely on you or those in whom you are invested, all eyes and effort and energy focused on running with the group, keeping up with the running Joneses, running their race. No destination of your own, no guiding light, no passion, just sweat and expenditure and pink cheeks and stretchy, sweaty clothes all with no gain and only the illusion of forward momentum.
When I run my own race, I want to do it with focus and purpose and intent. I don’t want to run willy-nilly all over, like a panicked horse in an unfamiliar paddock (horses race, too, y’all). I want a course ahead of me, a destination in mind, or at least a goal. I want to know that I can change direction if necessary, I want to be conscious of dangers ahead and alter accordingly, I want to be flexible and perceptive and aware–just not of the others near me, not of the competition, not of the FEAR that drives so many of us so often. I want to have a higher purpose and a higher calling, a vocation that guides me on, a mission that encourages me to evaluate each turn and new path to determine if it’s the right one for me–not the guy next to me, but for me. For my family and my future.
Fear is the mind-killer. It’s also the spirit-killer. I once read that the opposite of love isn’t hate; the opposite of love is fear. Over and over again, I have found that to be true. Running someone else’s race is all about fear, worry that we won’t get it right, fear that we’ll miss out, panic that we won’t be best or first or remembered or important or special. Running someone else’s race isn’t about love or devotion or focus or purpose or mission or faith or dedication. It’s about competition and defeat and shallow comparison. I want to run my own race, with a heart full of passion and compassion, with the knowledge that I WILL get it wrong, some of the time, and that other times, I will get it totally, totally right–not by accident, not because someone else led me to it, but because my heart was strong, my path was made clear, and my eyes were looking in the right direction.
Project details: my own cross stitch design; 14 ct Aida cloth in Tropical Blue; Sublime Stitching embroidery floss in Flowerbox palette.