Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys, Not My Asics, Not My Brooks

I get this.  I really do.
I get this. I really do.

I recently wrote about comparing myself, specifically to other runners.  I explored how this was something that cropped up in my life over and over again.  Not with runners per se, but in many other areas of my life.  And like one of those Whac-A-Mole games, when it disappeared from one part of my life, it tended to show up at another.  Lately, it was my fellow running companions.

And then I had a Friday night that seemed to dissipate all that.  I don’t recall if I mentioned it, but one thought I had as I rode back home from my little inner dialogue was that I no longer envied, resented or was jealous of all those folks whose paces and distances I coveted.  It was gone.  The faces of those I really had it in for crossed past me like a slide show and I felt nothing but love and healthy admiration for them.

So what the hell happened?

A great shift in my perception is what happened.

Don't you dare.  Seriously. Don't.
Don’t you dare. Seriously. Don’t.

I had a conversation with my step-sponsor and friend John last night, catching up on what’s been going on for me lately.  He was able to direct my thoughts in ways I hadn’t thought of and had me speechless at some of the things he extracted from what I told him.  When it came to the comparison game, he came straight to the point.

John:  Who the hell are you comparing yourself to, anyway?

Me: What do you mean?

John: Just that.  Who are you comparing yourself to?

Me: Umm…I don’t know.  Maybe an idealized version of who I think I should be?

John: Exactly.  You need to let go of expectations.

Me: I thought I was doing that already.

John: How has that been working out for you then?


He had me.  And that is what I had been chewing on for some time.  What I did tell him was something that had occurred to me after that Friday night.  And this is what I have come to see, when it comes to me comparing myself to the other runners:

1) I am making broad assumptions about other people.

2) I am focusing on a very slim part of other people’s lives (times, paces, distances, etc. – the numbers) and making those things bigger than life.

3) I am downplaying any kind of significance of mine.

4) I am allowing ego to rule the roost.

5) I am trying to play God.

Just a little to the left folks...that's good.  My evil plan is now complete.
Just a little to the left folks…that’s good. My limp, wooden evil plan is now complete.

Sounds a bit heavy handed maybe, but that’s how it plays out for a cat like me.  And yet, it is very simple:

1) I am assuming that everyone out there have terrific and wonderful lives free from any distress or hurt.  I am putting others on a pedestal which is unfair to them, and to me.  I am equating (and this is a big one for me) that a better runner = a better person. I am judging others.  I am painting a broad picture on very little information.  I am assuming everyone truly does have a better life than I do, simply because of their running prowess.

2) I see only what my ego / self-pity wants to see.  Unreachable goals without context.  I have to remember that all these folks work hard at their running.  They are committed, loyal and passionate.  They sacrifice a lot and have focus.  I also have to remember that most of the people I admire don’t have children.  Or are younger.  They have more disposable income and time.  I have two young children.  I don’t have the time or money to do what a lot of these folks do in their pursuit of fitness levels.  I had my shot twenty years ago and blew it by doing the one thing that I did spend time and money on and was good at – drinking.  No even splits on a beer run.

And at the same time, I have to turn the glass around a bit.  Who is to say that some of these people wouldn’t give their left arm to be a parent? Perhaps they are childless not by choice but by medical reasons?  Who’s to say that there is something in my own life that they admire and would like to have?  It’s easy for me to cast dispersions when I don’t have any part of the picture except a skewed one.

Me and the lads back at finishing school.  Oh the salad days never seemed to end!
Me and the lads back at finishing school. Oh the salad days never seemed to end!

3) As someone here mentioned a while back, if they had started running and then 13 months later ran a marathon, they would be broadcasting it everywhere!  And what did I do? Mope.  Lizard brain at work.  I am slow in that I don’t recognize these accomplishments until way after they are done.  I am too busy living in the past or trying to foresee the future to enjoy what I am doing or just did.  I told John that yes, it was pretty cool to do what I did.  It is only now that I see that.  I need to knock the pedestals down and to lift myself up now and then to see that we are all right-sized.

4) Comparing myself to others only satisfies one thing – my ego.  It’s twisted of course – we usually think of ego as this proud majestic thing.  But inverted, it takes on nefarious faces – self-pity, perfectionism, martyrdom, etc. And that is what John told me – that I play into that perfectionism part of me too much.  Ego stroking.  I spend too much time pointing out this and that instead of just being.  Just running.  Just allowing things to unfold as they should be.

5) Well I wouldn’t be in this jam if I weren’t playing God – trying to manipulate the outcome of things and others to suit me and me alone.  Seems silly to say that something as simple as comparing myself to others is equal to me trying to be the Great I Am, but it’s the truth.  And as John told me, as long as I let someone other than Paul run the show, things will work out fine.  The Paul Plan didn’t go too well, if memory serves me.  John likes to remind me of that as well.


So who the hell am I comparing myself to?  I told John that I was tired of being tired of playing that game. I thought that when I took booze out of my life that I would find out who I was.  That sort of “finding myself” remains elusive to me in some ways.  I fear being me because I don’t know who I am, and yet I don’t know who I am so how the hell can I be afraid of that?  Oh Paul, there you go overthinking things again.

When it comes down to it, I see that in the running game, and in all other parts of my life, it’s only me against me.  Mano y mano. I finally have started to understand this, in my heart and not just intellectually.  I don’t covet the numbers I see now.  Or covet as much.  I don’t make (as many!) assumptions about others. I see the running community the way I see so many other tight-knit ones (like recovery, for example) – supportive, engaging, encouraging, helpful and funny. I have to see myself as just another one of them.  No better, no worse.  I am starting to see that now.


Work that blazing uppercut, Irene. We have corn to shuck soon.
Work that blazing uppercut, Irene. We have corn to shuck soon.

And I know that I am getting this because I now can see how successful and fantastic others are doing and I am not envious, jealous or resentful.  I am truly happy for them.  I know they earned it.  I have things I have earned too.  And while I can’t necessarily chart them on a map or computer graph, I know they are there.  When my kids run to me and hug me, or when someone thanks me for something I have done for them, that’s something.  Better than it used to be.  Small steps.

How and what others do – that’s their thing.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.  And for runners – same thing.  Not my Asics, not my Brooks.  I am a more of a New Balance and Saucony guy anyway.  Whatever works.  Because in the end the only person I am racing is me.  And I am (almost) starting to like that guy.

Race on.



25 Comments Add yours

  1. REDdog says:

    I take great encouragement from your special brand of humility, Paul…you restore my jaded faith in humanity. Thanks mate. Always deep respect…Red

  2. jenkirk72 says:

    Awesome post, Paul!!! Letting go of that ego really does wonders, doesn’t it?? I never thought I would be at peace running 5 min then walking 5 min, but ya know what?? I am!!
    Glad you found the clarity for which you have been searching!

  3. Paul says:

    Well said Paul, well said. And as you explore beyond the doorway you have just entered, you will find a universe so broad and diverse that it will blow your mind. And the really neat thing is that it does include everyone and everything you already know and yet now with dimensions that you never even suspected let alone knew existed. And that is just the tip: marvels and wonders abound to be discovered and/or created. As a aside, and a strange one, I suspect that you will now run better times because you will be able to focus more purely on the activity without wasting energy fighting against yourself. And don’t forget to watch for future opportunities for coversation…

  4. I like that guy a lot, too!
    Thoroughly enjoying this journey you’re taking and sharing with us, Paul. You are one of the most self-aware people I know and it’s been a joy watching you discover these parts of yourself. It’s more than voyeuristic, though. What you say makes a difference and reaches an audience far beyond your own psyche. Bravo, my friend!!
    PS: I’d really like to put “not my circus, not my monkeys” on my outgoing e-mail signature if I didn’t think it wouldn’t get me fired!

  5. getupflyaway says:

    Something I heard at a meeting once that I have trouble implementing: “Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to how you were yesterday.” I guess there is nothing wrong with striving for progress but when I get caught up in my ego (inflated or deflated) things get rough. Great post, thanks!

  6. ainsobriety says:

    I admire your ability to be honest with yourself in a kind and nonjudgmental way. You obviously have a wise step sponsor there to help you out. I’m kind of jealous-but some of your realizations help me enormously, so I will learn from you!!!!

    There is a shift in U.S. when we start to look at others from a place of kindness and compassion (or maybe even love). Trying to view people we admire, envy or even dislike this way opens my eyes to the truth that all people struggle and we are all dealing with crap and we all just want to feel part of life.

    Thank you for another life lesson!


  7. sherryd32148 says:

    When we do this (and by we I mean me but I need company so I’m dragging you in) isn’t this just another way for us to self-criticize and self-hate? We can’t possibly compare ourselves to others for all the reason you state here…so why do we do it?

    I think it’s just another way for us to avoid telling ourselves that we’ve done a good job. That we’ve been successful. That we done good. We’re unable to accept the good for fear it will end tomorrow (I mean, good things can’t POSSIBLY happen to US) so we are constantly on the lookout for all of those we perceive are better, have more, look better, etc.

    I’m still working on the answer to all of this but I love how your posts always make me think about it.

    Okay this really was all about me but thanks for keeping me company.


  8. This so hits home for me. I am constantly playing the compare game. Thank you for this. I have taken so much with me but will probably need to come back and re-read many times.

  9. mishedup says:

    love this post Paul….what a wise sponsor you have.
    and you can bet that i will be asking myself a lot “who are you comparing yourself too”? That is the best question ever. It always comes back to an idealized self, what we “should” be able to do, etc. You did a marathon in 13 months, in that time I entered a yoga teacher training…both awesome things, both beyond our own expectations of ourselves and yet….
    it is, we are enough.
    no ‘other” out there has anything on us, we all have our own fights and dragons to slay. I’m with you, let’s get on it!

  10. Yahoo!!!!!!!! That is all I need to say.

  11. I’d like to add: you don’t even have to compete against yourself!

  12. The bits of insight & self-revelation that we are allowed in sobriety always amaze me. I am filing this post away in my mental filing cabinet of awesomeness, because I know I will need these sage words at some point soon. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I’m glad you found your New Balance, lol.

    I do think that to some degree it’s ok to get frustrated or disappointed in our performances IF we can use those feelings I’m a positive direction. Evaluate what went wrong, make a plan, and then move forward. Sounds like your head is maybe turning in the more positive direction for you. You definitely should celebrate your significant accomplishments! You earned it 🙂

  14. mike says:

    You remind me of me. Seems to me that you continually make unreasonable demands upon yourself and others and when those demands are not met you get upset. Whenever you don’t get your way or resent your own shortcomings, you don’t know what to do with those feelings and they drive you and conversely the people closest to you, nuts. The problem is my friend, that you lack the objectivity that will give you the logical answer to your inner problems. In layman’s terms, that means you are fucked. Intellectually you know this already. Unfortunately, you hold on to this shit for long periods of time before you are beaten down enough to let it go or to ask for help. And lo and behold when you do sit down with your AA crew they got your shit figured out in a matter of minutes. So why you are not in constant contact with theses guys, on the phone or seeing them in meetings every single day is beyond me. The only hope you got is coming from outside yourself. Prayer and people. If you don’t seek it, you wont find it. What was suggested to me and I am suggesting to you is that you call on the telephone everyday, 5 guys, whose sobriety you respect, and talk with em. Everyday. The same 5 guys. You stay in constant contact, and put an end to your thinking isolation, your life will change. The only reason it wont help you is, if you refuse to do it.

  15. I think we all struggle with the same thoughts. I always think that other people have better lives, and are more successful. The truth is that we are all scared to fail and we all overthink things.
    Congratulations on finding your new attitude. I should learn from you.

  16. jeffstroud says:

    I am sure you have heard this before, and it may seem trite “you are right where your suppose to be” ! Really, awakening, awareness, admitting are the practice we learn in recovery. Part of program, and that program is a “life long” practice. Not something to race to finish but a steady jog around the path. It is all good!
    Finding out who you are is part of the process too. Much of it at first is finding out who you are not. It is great to admire fellow runners, or even people in recovery. Why did you chose the person who is your sponsor? Maybe because you admired what they had and wanted what they had. You didn’t covet that you wished to learn, to grow, to have an example of how the live a sober life.

    So being where you’re suppose to be is the right place for now. You can only work from where you are. Awaking, awareness and admitting where we are, who we are and discovering how we get there is the training, are the small steps we take. One day we look back and say Wow look where I am!

    Blessing to you

  17. furtheron says:

    I have heard some people call expectations “a resentment in the making.” Not sure I totally agree with that but I get the drift of it.

    I used to always believe that everyone had this perfect life so much better than mine – they eat better food, their kids were better behaved, the paycheck was bigger, they were better looking, taller, had more sex than me… etc. etc. etc.

    No basis for these beliefs at all just a feeling of “I’m not good enough”. I don’t know how it happened but somewhere in my recovery (or maybe just the ageing process who knows) that seemed to just drift away. I can’t say it has totally gone but it is a lot lot better in my head than it used to be

  18. NotAPunkRocker says:

    Wise words from you and from your sponsor. Logically, it all makes sense. Practicality-wise, I am still working on how to apply this to actually living my life for me. Works in progress, right?

  19. Hi Paul, every word of this post spoke to me. My ego started argue against points one and two, but by the time I started reading point three even the ego had to shut the hell up.

    I am jealous. Like you, my life can feel like whack-a-mole (great analogy, by the way), and I just get tired of trying to fight it. I love that you found that shift in perception. I remember well when it happened for me in regards to mind-altering substances, so I can imagine the elation you must be feeling now.

    You inspire me Paul, and you teach me in so many ways. Thanks for all you do for us in the recovery blogosphere!

  20. Fantastic post as always, Paul! And damn, you could have been writing this about me. Our twisted thinking is quite similar. Watch out, world! Ha. 🙂 Oh, and I’m a New Balance gal all the way. Thanks for sharing, friend.

  21. lucy2610 says:

    And thus it was ever so 😉 When I ran my marathon the only person who was gonna foul it up for me – was me! You are so right Paul – we are only ever running against our mental selves (literally and metaphorically!!) PS New Balance girl here too! 😀

  22. Paul Mc #jft says:

    luv u Paul, u rascally coyote! race on…..! runners run ;->

  23. It is almost impossible not to comment on this blog. Bulls-eye. We all want to play God. (Garden…Eden ring a bell, I take it.) And I love how a blogger put it: that green, green plot over there happens to be artificial grass.

  24. Owl says:

    I think the comparison/competitive thinking is taught and encouraged in us by teachers when we are small children. It is encouraged in sports and in grades and in extracurricular activities. Almost any “fun” hobby as a child, was made into a competition by the adults. Then this poisonous attitude filters into young kids’ minds, I’d say by age 8. Then, having fun is no longer the real goal of playing anything, except to score, to win, to be better than the “others”. All of this is a great sickness, IMO, passed down thru the many generations. Discovery, exploring, learning, fun, and excitement, are what real playing is really about; this leaves no room for competitiveness.

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