Last week I decided to be brave and run with a running club. Why is that brave? Well, the leader of that group is a professional trainer and a sponsored Spartan racer. He is fast, and I mean really fast. I was worried that since I just recently began to run again after an injury, I would be too slow to keep up with the pack. But they let me join in anyway and I had a blast running with some great runners!
As we were running, I ended up beside the leader in the front of the pack for a short time and we were talking about his passion: Spartan racing. If you don’t know what a Spartan race is, look it up, it is really impressive. Along with the race, they do all kinds of challenges such as climbing ropes, swinging from bar to bar, and crawling under ropes military style. And if the challenges aren’t enough, if you make a mistake, you get a fault which requires you to do 30 burpees!!! Spartan warriors are truly extraordinary – so you can imagine how surprised I was when he suggested that I should train to be a Spartan warrior. It wasn’t his suggestion that stuck with me but his reason for suggesting it. He said, “you are competitive – I see you at the gym and when you train.” What? Me? Competitive? No, I wanted to argue with him, but… that seemed a little too competitive.
I don’t like to think of myself as competitive. I am not sure where along life’s journey it began, but a long time ago I began to see competitive as a bad trait. I began to see being competitive as something to be embarrassed about. I dreaded being called competitive. Even though I played sports and I liked to do well, I never wanted people to think of me as someone who NEEDED to win. But as I sat with what he said, I realized something I have always equated the words competitive with: words like bossy, demanding, aggressive, and another ‘B’ word that no woman wants to be called.
I know that God made me achievement driven, and even though I sometimes shy away from that identity, it is part of who I am; of what makes Sarah, Sarah. I have tried to avoid that part of me by acting like results don’t matter or by participating in things like fun runs, where I am competing against myself and no one else. With this new injury, my physical therapist suggested that I race my first half marathon back understanding that I am racing to complete, not compete.
When I am honest with myself, I know that even completely injury free I would never compete with the elite runners that make up the top finishers of this race. There is some freedom in that, but it’s got me thinking: where else in life have I been too focused on the competition hindering the completion? Where have I have been too afraid of not doing well that I don’t try at all, or act as though the results don’t matter so people don’t see me as competitive? The answer to this question came very quickly this week.
Writing and speaking. Long ago, I knew God had given me a call toward writing and speaking. My life story is one that, if I am brave enough to share, has the potential to be powerful and offer support to others. I have had the opportunity to speak in many places, and every time I am encouraged that this is what I was made to do. But I have been so afraid of the competition that I haven’t poured myself into the process. I have been too worried about competing in a very competitive field.
I realize that competition is holding me back. Instead of being a driving force, it has been a paralyzing force. I know this because, just as I was thinking about competition, I pulled open my facebook and was looking at my friend’s updates, and there in front of me was a photo of a beloved friend standing with two of my favorite authors. I have loved their writings and I wish they would read my writings. My friend has the book deal I have wanted, as I hold my finished manuscript that hasn’t even been read by one publisher. He gets to share his story in different venues all over the country, and has the wide audience I would love to have. He has worked hard for all of this and deserves every last moment of success, and make no mistake, I am always in the front row cheering him on, but in my heart there is a little sadness.
My successful friend and I began sharing our stories at around the same time and there is no sense of competition between us, but there are those moments like last week when I feel a tinge of jealousy and competition, and I hate it. This week I was reminded that what my physical therapist said is true of all things in my life. I really should be writing to complete and not compete. My task is to finish the course in front of me; to not look to the left and right and see where others are standing, but to do my work and let that be good enough. Just like the half marathon I am only going to enjoy it if I don’t count the people who pass me. When I write, when I speak, it isn’t about how many likes I get or how many people follow me, it is instead about understanding that I am simply asked to complete my task of sharing the story God has given me.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
I wonder why it seems okay, even encouraged by society, for men to be competitive in sports and ambitious in their vocation, whereas it is not okay for women. It feels shameful. I have always been competitive in sports (tennis, running, swimming, triathlons) and at age 58, this was not always seen as feminine to be athletic. I was also ambitious as a United Methodist clergywoman, ordained in 1981. This was rather threatening to some of the clergymen in North Carolina initially also. My drive and energy went into becoming a CPE Supervisor and Director of Spiritual Care in several hospitals, until I finished at a major academic medical center. I was fortunate to do some fascinating interdisciplinary research into Spiritual Care with palliative care cancer patients, about which our team is writing and publishing. Today, I have more balance on the creative, nurturing side of life in Hawaii and San Francisco. Your story resonated with me.
Thank you for sharing how much it resonates with you. I am jealous of your creative side in Hawaii and San Francisco! I do wonder if the gender stereotypes will ever change?