Last week, I was interviewed by the Cincinnati Business Courier and was asked to share the best advice I’d ever received. Boiling it down to just one piece wasn’t easy, but in the end, I chose this one, given to me during my marathon running days.
At the time, I was being cautioned not to get swept up in a rush of adrenaline and competitive spirit at the starting line, which I’d eventually pay for dearly by dragging myself across the finish. I’d trained for months with a very close friend, but on race day, we knew we’d run separately, each to her own rhythm.
That sign hangs in my office to this day and it’s simple message resonates deeply with me because it’s turned out to be about so much more than running. Today, when I read those words, it gives me permission to chart my own course, professionally and personally. It emboldens me to stay true to my purpose and to answer my callings, at work and at home, at my own pace.
I think we’re facing a crisis of purpose today – and that it’s rooted in our temptation to run someone else’s race. Constant comparison to our peers (or, frankly, to people we’ve never even met) keeps us pushing toward more and better with no clear reason why. This chronic comparison is perpetuated by a 24/7 news cycle touting the accomplishments of high achievers across the globe and by social media, where we have minute-by-minute exposure to the highlights our connections choose to share. As a result, we want what they have, and we want it now.
At some point, in the midst of this barrage of stimulus showing us what everyone else is doing, we lose sight of what we are meant to be doing and instead we join the crowd as it goes by. Then we run like our life depends on it, matching the closest person stride for stride, trying to get ahead with every ounce of our strength and stamina. But toward what end?
There’s a fundamental risk to joining the closest race as it goes by. Oh, it may feel easier than starting our own. There’s momentum there, and running mates, and the energy of the crowd. There’s a proven path and a finish line that everyone seems to recognize. But there’s risk, too. If we jump into the wrong race without stopping to consider our destination, we may never become who we are meant to be. We can’t. We’ll be too busy trying to keep up with the people closest to us, and they may be chasing entirely different goals than those we truly want.
The race most of us have joined is the one toward “success” – we’re chasing more money, bigger jobs, better stuff. But what I hear today, even among people who’ve collected more of those things than they could ever have imagined, is a deep yearning for purpose. We’re growing tired of simply moving up career ladders and tax brackets without knowing why we are. We’re searching for something more.
Finding that more comes when we stop trying to beat everyone around us to some imaginary finish line piled with riches and fame, and instead set out to discover the sacred course waiting just for us. There, we may run alone, or with a small band of dedicated compatriots, all pursuing a common goal. There may, in fact, be traditional measures of success awaiting us, but there’s no guarantee. What’s guaranteed if we chart our own course, is that we’ll have abundant energy for the journey.
The people swept up in the race to success who lack the energy of purpose don’t know why they’re running so hard in the first place. They’re not exhilarated; they’re exhausted. They don’t feel like they’re winning. Perhaps it’s not even their race.
When we’re on our course, there may not be fanfare, but there will be peace. There will be abundant energy to do our work. And we’ll find that we always win when we run our own race.
Question: Are you clear about which race you’ve joined? What signs do you get when you’re on the right course? What does it feel like when you veer off course and start chasing someone else’s dream? Share your story in a comment!