Run Your Own Race

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.

run your own race cross stitch | whipstitch

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.

run your own race | whipstitch

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.

cross stitch detail | whipstitch

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.

run your own race detail | whipstitch

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.

cross stitch zoom | whipstitch

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.

your own race | whipstitch

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.

framed run your own race x stitch | whipstitch

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.

You Might Also Like

  • Aoife
    July 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Thank you, so much! I’m sitting here wearing an almost finished dress. The third I’ve ever made (and one of those was a sheet-muslin of this dress). And all I’m doing is thinking if only I took the zip out one more time it would be more perfect, which is irritating and taking the gloss off the fact that I made A DRESS. A real functional one, once it’s hemmed! You are so right. My zippers will get better over the next ten dresses I make. I do not need to install this one zipper ten times to get that practice or for this to be ‘perfect’! Instead I can get that and ten more wearable dresses over time.

    Rambly, sorry, but a massive Thank You!

  • Cari
    July 12, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    “Underdogs are Rocky training to fight. Not Rocky training to bake.”

    I had my own little aha moment when I read this! Thanks!

  • Karen
    July 13, 2013 at 7:03 am

    I too, read this phrase a few years ago – on Pinterest maybe??? I interpreted it differently, thinking of my children, and the stresses they go through just growing up. I find the words very liberating, for me too. Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, just take care of your own business. I had the phrase made into wall vinyl, and applied it to a wall in our computer room, a wall everyone sees when they walk into our house. I think the words refocus us.

    BTW – just (finally!) finished the drawstring shift, and loving it! Will post to flickr soon.

  • Kay Stephenson
    July 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I love that this post popped up in my reader immediately after the post from Melody at Ruby Star Rising writing about her decision to leave the fabric line behind and shape the life she really wants to live. Answering hard questions and embracing our own reality is a trend I hope to see more of. As a woman who is about to attend her 40th high school reunion, I can tell you that the friends who support you in running your own race now are the ones who will be a part of your life forever. Thanks Deborah for being the thoughtful woman you are.

  • Belinda
    July 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Excellent post!

  • Heather
    July 14, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Thank you for this post. I read it in my reader this morning while I was rushing around getting things done at the same time. I ended up saving it for later and re-read it again to make sure that I understood what I initially read. The thought that I kept on going back to was – she is right, Fear is the Mind Killer and you just need to keep to your own path. I like the saying Run Your Own Race! It puts it simply and easy to remember. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Shalini
    July 14, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Oh you had me laughing about the marathon business… and then just so inspired. Beautiful post. You know your post reminds me of the concept of “Living Wholeheartedly”. It means we embrace our vulnerability and are live authentically. Its our own unique impression in this world and it is wholehearted.

    Funnily enough today finally I am completing the first bag from the hand bags course. Oh and just the pocket looks so cute. I guess I am really far behind…but I am doing what I can. I will get there.

    Your whole approach to sewing is why I am able and so keen to do it. Your all about giving it a go and really learning and enjoying it, which is what will allow us to “explore” and “grow”. Yet I always find myself picking fabric I love and then getting scared to make a mistake.

    Being around you makes the courses so fun. I love listening to your silly commentary. It makes learning a whole lot more about joy and not just about sewing… or perhaps sewing with joy !!! 😀

  • katie @swimbikequilt
    July 14, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this all day… a good friend posted something about her Ironman training that I thought you would like along the same vein…
    Anyway. Excellent post. happy running 😉

  • Kelli
    July 23, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    LOVE this post for a lot of reasons. I am strongly competitive in nature, but have learned (for the most part) to not let comparison steal my joy. I’m on my path, which is different than everyone else’s. Run Your Own Race is another way to look at it and I love it since I consider myself a runner (albeit very slowly). Love the xstitch. When I see things like this it makes me want to stitch again. 🙂