Interesting Thought: Defining "Better"
Earlier this week, I sent a tweet out into the internet that read: "Don't compare yourself to others, compare yourself to prior versions of yourself." It spread far and wide, but not everyone loved the message. A handful of folks questioned whether we should be looking back at prior versions of ourselves, especially after injuries and aging.
I told them that yes, I think we should. Perhaps where the confusion lies is on what basis we are making the comparison. When we look back, I think we should be asking ourselves something along the lines of, "Are we better than we were before?" But here's the thing: "better," at least in my eyes, doesn't center around any objective measure of performance. It's not just about how fast you can run six miles, how many sales deals you are closing per week, or how many articles you publish in a year. While those kinds of accomplishments certainly contribute to "better," they are merely a small part of it.
What better is really about is about being stronger, kinder, and wiser. That's the kind of growth I think we ought to be after. I know I don't want to have any traditional measures of performance on my tombstone. But I do want folks to remember me as strong, kind and wise—those are the things that really matter and I think the journey is about becoming them.
When I think about my own life, it's been the times when my objective performance was the worst that I most became stronger, kinder, and wiser. During injuries and failures (both physical and mental) I may have felt awful in the moment—which sometimes lasted for days—but when I came out the other side I was better. I wasn't more productive or a higher performer during those dark times; I was fucking miserable. But looking back from the other side, it was in those stretches that I truly became better. Not a better writer. Not a better athlete. But a better human. Stronger, kinder, and wiser.
This isn't to say we shouldn't care about objective measures of performance. We should. They matter. But it's equally important to remember that deals closed, medals won, and promotions earned make up only a small part of the balance sheet that is one's life.
Coming back to where I started: Yes, I do think we should compare ourselves to prior versions of ourselves. We should ask if we've gotten better. Are we stronger, kinder, and wiser than we were before?
Coaching Corner: The Freedom of Faith
Long time friends of mine can tell you that I annoyingly say “it will all work out” all the time. It’s as if I shrug my shoulders and say “whatever” to big goals and demands. That might seem sacrilegious to someone who self-describes as a "pusher," someone driven to succeed at the highest level. But the reality is that my inclination towards declaring "it will all work out" is actually a superb coping mechanism to alleviate the burden of pursuing success.
In a world where we often define ourselves by the outcome we achieve, declaring that it will all work out allows me to shift the emphasis towards what really matters; the things which I can control. By invoking some semblance of faith, I can deal with the fear of failure that often paralyzes us and divert my attention away from winning or losing and focus it instead towards putting in the effort and enjoying it the process.
I developed this mindset during my early college days when my running was going south and I needed a way to cope with pouring everything into a single task and not having the outcome be what I wanted. Ironically, when I adopted this mindset, my own performances started to come around, and most importantly, after a pretty dark period, I began to enjoy running again. The lesson is one that has stuck with me for years: You can’t force things, be it in life or in running. You’ve got to let them come to you.
Before I adopted my "it will all work out" mentality, I would grasp at success, try to bully my way through training and racing to accomplish my goals. But in a decade of coaching–both inside and outside of sport–I've learned that breakthroughs occur when you let them happen, never when forced. When you force, you tense up, feel the pressure to perform, and inevitably self-sabotage your own performance.
"It will all work out" frees you from the burden of trying to have control. In coaching speak, it's very similar to the simple message I tell all my athletes: “Let the race come to you, don’t chase it."
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