Earlier this year Jen from the Rochester magazine interviewed me for a magazine article. The article focused on human interest topics, including a question about exercise. Jen asked if I’m athletic. Nope. I can’t even sit through a baseball game, and don’t ask me to watch sports on television.
After that off the cuff answer I rattled off all the “not-athletic” things I’ve done. Ever since high school when Mark and I played at tennis I’ve engaged in sports of one sort or another. One of my friends ran ultra-marathons. I’ve never run more than a 10K. Another friend regularly rides his bike across Minnesota (TRAM) or Iowa (RAGBRAI). I once rode a 100K circle and it darned near killed me. I loved playing racquetball, but never progressed out of the “C” leagues. Some of my buddies regularly competed in the Open or “A” tournaments. Even canoeing has held my interest, but not as much as my friend Andy. He left Rochester to kayak around Australia. My canoe competition once yielded last place in a Zumbro Zig Zag triathlon. Inauspicious at best, eh?
After telling Jen about all those athletic escapades I realized that my definition of athletic is incorrect. I have always compared myself to my friends abilities. Specifically, I compared my skills one at a time with the best of the field.
No matter where I looked, someone did better at an activity than I could. It didn’t matter what the activity was. I wasn’t the best at anything.
I almost fell into the trap of feeling like a failure. Instead, I fell into the trap of comparing myself to the wrong people. The only person I want to compare myself to is the person I want to be.
Since we’re on the athletic theme, let’s go with the triathlon idea. Remember, I finished last in one of them. How many dozen athletes finished ahead of me? Lots. How many finished behind me on that beautiful day?
Not a soul.
But what a gorgeous day! The sun was out. The temperature was perfect for a day on the river, the running and biking trails. Best of all, my family and friends were there to cheer me on. Even better than that, my son did the entire triathlon with me. We rode across the finish line together, holding hands to the cheers of people we knew. Oh, yes, and the few workers who were taking down the banners and time keeping equipment. They wanted to go home.
Who should I be comparing myself to? Those dozens of people who ran faster than I did? The ones with thousand dollar bikes? Could I have improved my times by training harder and longer? Yep. Would a fancier composite frame bike improve my performance? Maybe. Apparently I had decided against the expensive running shoes, not buying the racing canoe and bent paddles.
The time and money that didn’t go into preparing for the Zumbro Zig Zag … I invested in a fuller life, doing things with friends and family, reading, serving on committees, gardening, and so much more.
Who should I be comparing myself to? The monomaniacal athlete who finished ahead of me? Perhaps the better comparison is the person at home watching “Dancing With the Stars?” How about the workaholic? I enjoyed leaving work on time, knowing that no matter how much I did, the boss always had another task ready for me. There are too many comparisons available!
All of this comparing takes me to a place I don’t want to go. I’m not better than the person who watches television for a hobby. The runner with a new personal record again this week isn’t better than me. Comparing to either one of those people encourages me to narcissism or depression. Not a place I want to be.
The conclusion I came to is that the only comparison for me is me. Did I do as well as I could for the investment of time and wealth? Did I come away happier than before I started the activity? Did I want to do something else? I’m not in this life to impress anyone. I’m here to increase happiness, starting with my own.
What makes me happy now is sitting in a coffee shop, listening to the Muzak and the buzz of conversations, sipping a latte and finishing a pastry. Finishing a trip down memory lane before heading off to a day of fun with family and friends just tops it all off.
Maybe you’ll join me for coffee next time?