Participation Medal In The Human Race

I am nothing if ruggedly handsome

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – this is the very commonly used phrase in plaques and posters that litter Inspirational Internet. I also get it a lot, because when I talk about comparing myself to others, it’s the first bullet in the chamber that people shoot my way. It’s a wonderful visual, that thief of joy. One can imagine a stout anthropomorphic blob with red eyes darting back and forth underneath a cowl, floating in the room and using a set of clasps attached to a selfie stick, slipping joy out of a wallet, stuck to the coffee points reward card.

At least, that’s how I picture it.

Anyone who knows me, even in the slightest, will know about my struggle with comparing myself to others. Move over sugar and other unhealthy habits or behaviours, because comparing myself to others (CMTO) is the drug and I need to score (apologies to Roxy Music). There is no gateway drug to CMTO – it just hits whenever and wherever. Mainlined into my spirit with a rush that stops my heart for a moment and then coarses through the rest of me. It’s a masochistic act, this CMTO, akin to plucking my own eyes out because I don’t like the colour of the walls in my house. Instead of just changing the damn paint, I’d rather torture myself. In the same regard, instead of simply changing my perspective on things, I am drawn towards self-abasement and feeling less than.

One area that I have been struggling with has been in the running community through social media. I love running, but I am often injured. Either I have just stopped running, recovering from injury, or just re-starting my running. The most I have been healthy in the last two years is about 8 weeks. In that same time period, I have had issues with my Achilles tendon, left foot, IT band, knees and back. Lately, I have been off with sciatica (a pain which I wouldn’t wish on anyone) and it’s been about six weeks since I last laced up. It’s been very difficult not only dealing with the pain, and the seemingly endless medication taking and medical appointments keeping, but also watching everyone else running.

I am nothing if graceful under pressure

I see runners who used to run at my level (slow) who are now flying all over the place, running longer and faster and really doing well. Some are getting into the Boston marathon (a prestigious race that you are invited to if you break certain qualifying times), or running ultra marathons (usually 50km or longer races) or generally kicking ass. And I’m…just sitting on my ass. Recovering, once again. It’s been hard to watch and cheerlead others at times. In fact, I had to mute words like “running”, “race”, “marathon” and other common words so they don’t make it on my social media time line. It seems petty, I know, but for now it’s the only way I can buffer myself from the running scene, to give myself some space.

My good friend Jenn ran the Chicago marathon this past weekend, her first marathon ever, and as I told her after the race, if I weren’t so damn happy for her, I would have been so very jealous. It was in rooting for her that I was able to switch things around in me a bit (a bit – let’s not get carried away!) While it was hard at times to cheer for her without comparing myself to her and making it about me, I knew I had to keep at it and keep the focus on her. Not only because I would have looked like a selfish jerk, but it also kept me in check. I had to realize that her being a part of this amazing event didn’t take anything away from where I am in my own journey. It didn’t mean I was less than her or anyone else.

That’s an italicized truth which still has a hard time getting from my head to my heart. Ironically, it’s the running community which is most supportive, as they understand what it’s like to be injured and watching from the sidelines, and I have cut them off (see: nose, spite, face.) I will probably un-mute those words soon, as I start to come out from underneath the covers of resentment and jealousy. It’s my problem and my problem alone. The good news is that I get to change how I look at things at any time I want. It’s my decision to sit in the muck and mire of my making.

I am nothing if not cocksure of my skills and abilities

As a wise person I know told me recently, I am not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second. And third. She also suggested that I be grateful for the things that can do. These are the kinds of tools which are the antidote to the poison I put into my own head when I think less of myself, when I think that others are better than I am, when I feel that others are having it better than I am. Having these tainted thoughts is all warped perceptions of mine – I don’t know what battles others are having. I am not privy to what it took for people to get where they are, or what is going on in their lives.

So when I start to feel like I am not smart enough, good enough, talented enough and all that nonsense, I have to follow that up with the thought that I am exactly where I need to be, that the only one I need to measure up against is myself, that I am worthy of claiming space in this world, and that I have plenty to offer. Out there, someone is praying to have the kind of life I have, the one which I sometimes play victim to. I have to keep the perspective that I have plenty to offer, and that I am here to contribute to my small part of the world. I may not be world famous or rich in the monetary sense, but I have wealth that can’t be measured by stick, scale or “likes”.

I am nothing if transparent about my need to be liked.

Knowing all this, mentally, often doesn’t help me when I am windswept by my not-so-wise emotional side. So this is the work – to make it more of an in-the-moment practice rather than an after-the-storm mental exercise. The more I return to the center of right-sized thinking, the more I am able to weather the twister within. This will be a life-long endeavor, and that’s okay. I don’t have to perfect this overnight. The real test is how do I react when I feel this cold front coming on, when the precipitation is misting up my perception, when I am feeling the less than feeling creep in? Who do I give the energy to – the old behaviour and disturbed way of thinking, or the more balanced and reality-based way of seeing things?

Even as I write this, I feel much different than when I started this post two days ago. I almost didn’t want to post it, because those feelings have passed, and I almost feel silly talking about it, but I have because I need to let others see that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns in this new “recovereding” life we live. This is something that crops up for me often, and I need to continue to address it and get to the root of it. That is the whole peeling of the onion we hear about in recovery and spiritual circles. It’s the unveiling and unraveling of the core stuff which gets me mucked up from time to time.

Staying right-sized and keeping a healthy perspective on myself in the world is a lifelong journey. I have long stretches of it, and then I dip into these crevices of self-pity, shame, CMTO or whatever it is that wants to pull me down. But the work is in getting back out of them, taking the lesson, and marching forward. I am grateful for my recovery and for those who help me along the path and who can help me straighten out. They aren’t racing ahead, but walking path with me. We all walk together.

There is no competition in this


23 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Paul!
    This is something I can TOTALLY relate too! For me it’s with the yoga and yoga community.
    The good news is, I can let these thoughts go faster now…I say to myself, “It’s not about Wendy”.
    I also look the thought of Equanimity…taking life as it is.
    “If you expect your life to be up and down, your mind will be much more peaceful.”
    It’s also the concepts of Metta…Loving Kindness, Mudita…sympathetic joy;joy in the joy of others.
    It’s hard at times, I am not perfect in this, but so much better.
    There is a book that helped me SO much…
    How to Be Sick,A Buddhist-Inspried Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernard.
    I highly recommend it.
    Much Love,

  2. ainsobriety says:

    I’m really glad to be walking with you.
    My comparison voice is my red flag. It tells me I’m searching outside myself for something that life this far has shown me I will never find.
    I spent too many years hustling for my worth (thank you Brene Brown). It’s familiar and insidious. And very self destructive.
    But, like you, I see it.
    My role now is to remind myself I an ok as I am. Over and over again.

    Perhaps one day it will just be my natural, innate belief? I’m not sure. But until then I will keep trying. That’s where I find my contentment.

    Stillness and peace

    1. Paul S says:

      Everything you said, word for word, is my experience. I hope that it does become an innate belief for you and me. I really do. Right now, I am working with a wonderful person / coach who has me literally say “worthy” 300 times a day. So I say it in the morning, in the car, on my bike rides, in the shower, or whenever I hear the negative voice or comparing voice. Eventually it’s to help battle or even times replace that first negative thought. In fact, there are some times when I have said something unkind to myself, that the immediate word that comes up, without my beckoning, is “worthy”. So that has been helping me.

      Thank you once again for your wonderful, and kind words. I love your insight always.


  3. CrazyKat1963 says:

    Great read. I have never really had issues with comparing myself to others, or jealousy, but what I think are the thieves of joy are expectations. Expectations of myself and of others, especially my children. They taught me to throw my expectations clean out the window. But sometimes I still fall into the trap and am often disappointed. Now I have my SA husband to remind me not to have too many expectations. We all walk together. I love that!

    1. Paul S says:

      I envy that you never had too many issues with the comparison thing – it can be really debilitating. But expectations…I get this. I find that I don’t suffer much there, except when it comes to me (oh, how I lash myself!) and sometimes my kids too. I have to remember that how I grew up and my accomplishments aren’t going to be the same as theirs. I have to not take my disappointment on them, and remember that they are on a different path. Thank you so much for this…so very appreciated!

  4. good and inspiring article to those of us who are victim to this writing, is a wakeup all that all is not lost, no matter the discouragement i will get up from my falling because as i tried my elp will always come from the lord by believing in myself

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks for the kind words and comments, my friend. It’s really appreciated and I am glad that it resonated with you!

  5. Have you read Born to Run by Chris McDougall? He opens with the quest to find out why he keeps injuring himself running. My husband and I could not put the darn book down. I found the initial pages a bit disjointed but it will inspire you to the moon and take you through some fascinating history (and help you run without banging yourself up)!

    1. Paul S says:

      I have heard of that book – many people in my circles have mentioned it. I have to read it. Thanks for the recommendation! I will add that to my ever growing pile of books to read. I appreciate your time here. 🙂

  6. Abbie says:

    Firstly: I LOVE THE PICTURES! Especially the last one. Secondly: as we have each had this problem (more often than not), I applaud your bravery in putting the situation down in black & white. I have an idea for you, that I’ve been blessed to experience for a time, and I think you may like it too.
    Keep on writin’ in the free world!

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks so much, Abbie! What is this idea you have?

      1. Abbie says:

        Well, crap. I have no idea. lol But when it comes back to me, I’ll let ya know. 😁

        1. Paul S says:

          Ha ha sorry it took me this long to respond!!

          1. Abbie says:

            I remember now. Recumbent bike. Check it out. ❤️❤️

  7. Tai Fung says:

    Totally relate. And definitely very centered of you. Perspective is key (especially the self kind). You do you, because he’s plenty good enough.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks man – I really appreciate your kind words and encouragement here and elsewhere where we meet up (IG, etc.) I am trying to work on my reactions and trying to stay centered and not worry about others, and also not be selfish. I have to remember that other people’s victories don’t take away from what I do…and our paths are all different. Hope you have a splendid day, my friend!

  8. Thank you, once more, for the gift of your careful reflection, Paul.

    I know the struggle. We share it. I’m so glad you persisted in finishing your thoughts on the subject. I think you touched on several that are life changing. Seriously. I think if I spent half the time that I spent worried about how I stack or measure up to others working on improving my spirituality or my writing or with my kids, I would be a much better man.

    We were speaking about this on the phone this week–that was a great phone call–thank you again for talking with me. But I thought it made sense that guys like us don’t like reading the greats while simultaneously writing our own. We’re too damn sensitive for that. I need to carefully choose when I study the greats and make a clean separation for myself to create some room to improve. Progress not perfection is what is coming to mind. Although, your post went a lot farther in addressing the calamity of comparison than some program cliche ever could.

    Thank you for your gift of words. And have a great weekend, sir. Oh shit! The weekend is over for you tomorrow, technically. Let’s just leave it as: talk again soon.

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks for this, Mark. It was a great call, and always, always happy to connect with you whenever we can. We’re both busy guys, but touching base now and then helps to ground me.

      Yes – the timing thing about reading / writing is crucial for me. I can’t go from reading a well-crafted piece of art to my piece of shit first draft in one swoop. I need that break you talk about. Or else my comparing myself goes into overdrive. It’s insane. But maybe one day I can do it, but for now…I need the break. Same as on social media – I can’t run right now, and have had to mute a ton of running words and phrases. It may seem petty, but it buffers me for the meantime until I can get spiritually fit enough to face everyone’s victories and achievements and not make it about me and comparing myself. So I see it as self-care right now.

      Anyways, I am going to read that piece you sent me – it’s been mad busy for me, but I am looking forward to it!


  9. Reblogged this on Emerging From The Dark Night and commented:
    A wonderful post. Comparison is the thief of joy. I love that!

    1. Paul S says:

      Thanks for the reblog! Very much appreciated!

  10. Great post. It is a daily fight for me to stay in my own skin. I heard on an episode of The Bubble Hour” how the guest was no longer lamenting about not having her youth. It was the youngsters’ time. When we can accept who we are and where we are, life is good. That proverbial am I as good as (fill in the blank) monster gets me every single time. Just as much as I have to accept myself, I have to accept others for themselves – even if they have “more” than I do. I have enough and I am enough.
    Good read. Got me thinking about being still.

  11. Canuck Carl says:

    You are such an incredibly gifted writer Paul. It is amazing how we do compare ourselves with others, and I was thing “Boy, if only I could write like this” Struggling with injuries would really be difficult when we see all those posts of others successes. So much respect for your honesty and transparency.

    1. Paul S says:

      Carl….thank you so very much for this. You really made my morning. I appreciate the kind words and your warmth. Comparing myself is, when I think about it, rather a silly endeavor, but my lizard brain still likes to make it a scientific fact at times. And yes, I still struggle when I see the post-race shots and all that, but I do my best to cheer them on and congratulate them because I know the hard work involved. The fact is that most runners get injured at some point(s), and we all need the time for a sit. It’s just my time again! Thanks again for this. Paul

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