Run Your Race, Not Someone Else’s

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“My thoughts before a big race are usually pretty simple. I tell myself: ‘Get out of the blocks, run your race, stay relaxed. If you run your race, you’ll win…'” – Carl Lewis

A runner friend of mine once told me that the most important mindset principle for success in competitive running, especially in endurance races, is twofold: stay focused on the ground immediately in front of you, and work your plan.

In her opinion, many runners got suckered into expending too much energy too early in the race by the less experienced runners who would dart out to the front of the pack due to race-time adrenaline. This would always inspire fear, she said, that the lead was becoming insurmountable and that the race was being lost.

Because of this, some runners would violate their game plan and try to keep pace with the front of the pack. Inevitably, she said, those runners would slow their pace as they reached the limit of their training, and would fall back to the middle of the pack. However, the best runners who were wise enough to stick with their plan, forged by their months or years of training, would inevitably rise through the ranks and finish near the front.

I’ve often thought about her insights when approaching my own work. It’s tempting to look around at others who are doing similar work, and then to allow what I see to cause me to violate my game plan, my pace, my strategy. It’s easy to allow the plague of expectation escalation to cause my work in the immediate term to feel inadequate, even though it’s simply in-process.

The lesson that I’ve embraced over the past decade of life and work is a simple one: because of unique passions, skills, experiences, and opportunities, each of us have a unique race to run. It’s ours alone, and cannot be compared to the race being run by others. When we allow the stigma of judgment, comparison, or envy to tempt us off course, we violate the fullness of our unique contribution. We short-circuit our potential because we exhaust ourselves chasing “ghost runners” and “phantom success”. We lose sight of the end goal, and in turn we lose sight of ourselves.

I don’t mean for this to sound flighty or fluffy. Many organizations I’ve worked with have succumbed to the very same temptation. Their strategy suddenly seems wholely unsatisfying when they see the gains being made by a competitor. As such, they begin to do things that are out of character, pushing themselves into territory that stretches everyone to the breaking point. Inevitably, there is the crash, the burn, and the rebuilding, all because they were suckered into chasing someone else’s perceived success. (By the way, I’ve come to learn that the very things we envy are often well-constructed illusions, designed to inspire respect, but ultimately hollow.)

Run your race. Execute your plan. Do your work, not someone else’s. Don’t allow envy, spite, ego, or greed to derail you or cause you to chase a phantom ideal that was never meant for you. You have a valuable contribution to make in the arena of influence you’ve been given, but if you are not diligent you may wind up gaining quick ground in the short-term, only to watch the pack pass you a few miles down the road.

It takes bravery to know your strengths and to diligently operate within them. Be brave today, and run your race.

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Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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