Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Stop Running the Wrong Race and Choose Your Own Craft

It’s demotivating to run a race and see everyone pulling ahead of you. I know because I’ve been there.

Stop Running the Wrong Race and Choose Your Own Craft

Recently, a friend shared with me a time when he was running a marathon and watching all these people pass him. He was frustrated, because he thought he was in good shape, but here he was, struggling to keep up with the pack.

Just as my friend was on the verge of calling it quits, someone came alongside him and said, “Run your own race.”

The curse of talented friends

Sometimes, I find myself despairing of my lack of abilities in certain areas. This is exacerbated by the fact that I know so many talented people.

For instance, I’m not as good a leader as Michael Hyatt or as good a marketer as Bryan Harris. I’m nowhere near as funny or as clever as Jon Acuff, and I wish I could write half as well as Ally Fallon does.

I remember one day, walking across the street while headed to my office thinking these things, wondering how I could possibly ever catch up the amazing abilities of my friends.

It just seemed so hopeless.

And if this was a game I couldn’t win, then what was the point? As a high achiever, I have to be competing in something I have a chance of winning. Otherwise, I’ll quit. Just ask my wife.

Anytime we break out a board game and I don’t see a clear path towards victory, I give up, saying, “This is a stupid game. Let’s play something else.”

Which really means: Let’s play something I can win.

Winning feels like everything

You can tell me that winning isn’t everything but that doesn’t fully register with a personality like mine. I have to see some kind of path towards success; otherwise, I lose motivation.

And so, while walking across the street that day, I heard a voice interrupt my thoughts, and say, “Don’t beat them at their own game. Beat them at yours.”

I don’t know if that was God or my subconscious or the musician on the street corner. But to whomever the voice belonged, I am grateful. Because it struck a chord.

Choose your craft

You can spend a lot of time feeling bad about not being successful in one area of life or another. And you can always find something to be bad at. Trust me. I do it often.

The challenge here is to choose your craft. Focus on the thing — or portfolio of things — that only you can do. And do it well, without apology or complaint.

And when you see someone excelling in an area that you would like to succeed at, remind yourself, “That’s not my craft.”

This applies to everything from writing in one genre, like literary fiction, and getting jealous at the success of another author in a completely different genre, like self-help, to feeling bad about not being a great marketer when your calling is something else entirely.

That’s not to say we can’t improve at certain skills we may need to succeed, but it should be a reminder to us that we can’t master everything.

At those times when you feel those twinges of envy, tell yourself, “I have already chosen my craft, and that’s not it.”

After all, you can only run one race at a time.

What is your craft? How can you claim it and avoid getting distracted by someone else’s craft? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • This is tough. For me winning is progress. If I pick up a skill and see myself moving forward in a designated time, it is victory for me.

    For example, one of my target for this year is to run 10000 meters in one go. I have started running and currently can jog/run/drag 1200 meters in one go.

    So, if by end of the year I can do 4000 meters in one go then it is a winning for me.

    Relating to your point, my strength is explaining science topics – so that’s a craft I am at the higher level. If I play it, chances of traditional winning is more for me.

    Thoughtful article buddy. Stay Awesome.

  • I really loved this post and it really hit home. I’ve seen lots of posts talk about not comparing yourself to others but to focus on improving yourself from where you were before. But that’s easier said than done of course. For some reason the way you wrote it and the fact that YOU (someone most writers would use for the I’m not as good as ____ sentence) admit to feeling that way too really helped it hit home.

    Also the part about not wanting to do something unless you see the path to success (ie the board games) is totally my eldest daughter. It frustrates me so much that she wants to give up on a game when she’s barely tried. I need to figure out how to help her learn this lesson.

  • Olya Bohun

    The most difficult part now is to find my game, my craft.

  • I love this post. I want to do it all, but that hasn’t worked out so well for me so far… When I really dig deep, I know that what I truly want to focus on, and where my talent lies is in writing non-fiction, particularly about my experience with facing fear in life. That is what I believe I am called to do at this point in my life, and all the other stuff is just a distraction. But distractions are great when you lack confidence or discipline to do what you know you should be doing. This is a great reminder to stay focused on my own race and let everyone else shine in their own ways too… we’ll all have our day in the sun eventually.

    Jeff, I’m curious what you consider your specific game or craft to be?

  • jahanzeb

    I feel the aforementioned acts also help improve one’s social standing.
    Why not be an interesting addition to people’s social circle?
    Why can’t you enlighten those around you with stuff they don’t know about?

    Thanks for the interesting read

  • Chris Chelser

    While reading, a profound realisation came to mind:

    I have know that I’m a writer since I was in primary school. Now, decades later, people tell me that I can write anything and write it well: legal documents, business plans, complicated correspondence, educational guides and, yes, fiction in a variety of genres. So what is my craft?

    Reading this article, I realised that what I want is to help people find courage. Courage to fight, to face their challenges. Some find that second wind when I draft them a letter to a difficult client or legal adversary; others find is through my characters and stories.

    Can a purpose be a craft? I hope so, because I can’t think what else it could be. Thank you for showing me this :).

  • Jason Evans

    On the basketball court, in the weight room, & in the pool, yeah, I don’t even try. But in the writing game? I KNOW that writing is a CRAFT. The more time I put in on it, the better I will be. The more I help others, the more help I will get. Competition is an illusion. There is room enough for everyone. We are all in this together.

  • Franne

    I adore this post and want to thank you so much Jeff. I am attracted to so many different things and love to try new ones. I’m good at many, crappy at many, great at some and those are the ones where I try to expend the most energy. I love to write, always have. I’m a painter and artist. I’m a therapist and mentor. I focus the most on those things and dabble at the others. It’s great to employ my creativity in various ways, but I know what I’m really good at and I work at cultivating those things to become really “great” at them and not allow myself to be distracted by the fact that I can’t be great at everything. That doesn’t, however, mean and can’t do them with a sense of fun and adventure even if proficiency isn’t in the cards. Thanks so much for this reminder.

  • Steven Jackson

    I’ve never been able to relate to anything like that because I’ve been a type a personality all my life when I went to camp Edwards is a 10-year-old I was given a card at the end of our two-week camp stay it said quitters never win and winners never quit I lived with that all my life and It got me through some of the hardest times I ever had to go through so I think God for that little card and thank you Jeff for your article I hope that it encourages other people unlike myself to push through the difficulties and see themselves as more than enough

    • wendygoerl

      I used to feel that way, and then life beat me down. Now I feel like a Charlie Brown that’s smart enough to not want to kick the ball, but life’s standing behind me with a bunch of spear prodding me at Lucy again.

  • Love your timing, Jeff. A friend of mine recently suggested I incorporate my cartoons into my writing, in order to stand out from all the other writers. I’ve been running the wrong race by not leveraging my cartooning ability. Duh!

  • John Connell

    Your best post yet, Jeff.

  • Great post Jeff! Especially in this Internet connected world where there are so many people doing amazing things. I need to keep reminding myself to appreciate what others are able to do and what is possible. Yes so important to hear – we are all running different races. I have to be the best version of me. Thank you again Jeff for your honesty and transparency. We really need to hear this.

  • Gordon

    Thanks again, Jeff. I have a couple of crafts I’m good at. It works really well when I feel discouraged. He plays piano much better than me, but he’s never written a story. Or vice versa. If nothing else, I’ve got great kids and grandkids. They are all smart, attractive, both in looks and personality, and finally, maybe most important, they are truly nice.
    I said thanks again because I have been writing my 500 words (more like 6 to 700) every day, and it keeps getting easier. I even had combined two days’ work, sent it off and got it published. Thank you so much

  • N K

    Great post Jeff 🙂 !! I have some truly amazing friends who I respect and admire a lot, in fact so much that I end up feeling really insecure in front of them. I’m like, hey I can never do even 10% of what these peeps are up to. But interestingly, these friends too admire certain abilities in me and respect me as much as I respect them. You drive home a very good point: everyone is on their own journey; it’s futile to compare ourselves with others and lose sight of our own strengths by wallowing in our insecurity. And I’m not even talking of writing, it’s a totally different field I’m talking about, but your post applies perfectly to my situation as well.

  • Ingo Hampe

    It took me a while to find out what my craft is. And it will take me a little longer to believe in my craft. All I know is that it really takes courage to fokus on my craft and not get distracted by seeing what others are good at and I am not.

  • Saranit Vongkiatkajorn

    I’m glad to have read this article. Not only does it help to feel less intimated/jealous of those around you, it helped me to also realize that we actually don’t want the same things, in the same ways. If I’m going to focus on my own race, then I’ll get everything that I need through the channel by which I’m supposed to receive them. ‘Winning’ for me and winning for them are simply not defined the same way. 🙂 Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

  • Maria

    Just what I needed!Thank you!

  • Deb

    Wise words Jeff! One of the biggest learnings from the mastermind group I started for women entrepreneurs is that even those who look like they have it all together and excel at their craft also feel inadequate when they compare themselves to others. I gain strength from being real and seeing those I admire as co-travelers rather than competitors.

  • Ben Weaver

    Great reminder, Jeff. Thank you! The more and more I write, the greater focus I am getting. There is no one else on the planet that can do what I can do. I’m going to choose to stay on that path.

  • Another great post! This is a great reminder for people to work in their strengths.

  • Very inspirational. Helped me push forward on my blog.

  • Mary Smith Hansen

    Thanks, Jeff. Finding my craft is harder than I anticipated. Thought I knew. Now not so sure. But I know to keep writing until I find it.

    • Kate Jeffries

      Completely agree with you, Mary! My mind keeps jumping to different things that I think is my voice and then I ping off somewhere else. It’s weird. This post really made me smile and stop worrying so much though – thank you, Jeff!

  • You will have to train yourself to make decisions based on logic. KumKum Bhagya

  • Danielle Bernock

    Thank you for those four words: That’s not my craft. I need to memorize them.

    I learned from you early on about not being jealous but here you speak about being intimidated. That is a little different and I have fallen into it. Sometimes with you, as well as other writers that write specifically to writers. (here is where I need those four words) That’s not my craft.

    btw – I can relate to the I won’t play if I can’t win (I don’t have to win all the time but I can’t be incompetent.) Which is why I don’t play golf or softball.

  • Jenifer

    Helpful things to remember. When I was finding my way, I went to all the really big names in blogging and writing first before I found you Jeff. Seems I bounced along for a number of years trying to find my way. The information was there, somewhere. Somehow I felt lost on their sites – like everyone knew so much more and everything was always moving so fast and addressing topics I wasn’t at yet. Then I found your site, where you warmly welcome beginners and lost wanderers in the writing world, and say, come on in, join the tribe – there’s strength in numbers. It was easier to find my way and easier to feel a sense of belonging on your site. So as I take my writing to a larger audience, it’s helpful to read this post and quit comparing and criticizing, fearing and playing small and do the best I can for the people I serve.

  • Vanessa Shinmoto

    Thank you for sharing. It’s hard to remember to “run your own race” when so many talented writers have the ability to quickly churn out content. This is especially true in any political writing, where news cycle quickly turns content stale. That’s what intimidates me, not being able to produce enough content quickly. I am trying to “run my own race” by focusing on more evergreen stories with in-depth perspectives.

  • Beat them at your own game….

    Beat them at your own craft….

    Hmmm…. this is pretty good food for thought, I have to admit that. I recently rediscovered your blog after who knows how long it has been since I visited it. I came across a transcript of one of your interviews and returned to give you a second shot. That’s when I downloaded your freebies and read about using our own passion as a driving force.

    My craft…. writing, yes, but rather more specifically, blogging at this point. Maybe it will lead to writing a book or guest post or something down the road. Who knows but as the famous Dumbledore said, it does not do one any good to dwell on dreams and forget how to live. For now, without getting lost in the far future, I am focusing on what I enjoy, blogging.

    At the moment, my craft is writing about a passion of mine because there’s too many brick walls keeping me and other bloggers from going forward due to a lack of inaccessibility.

    Heck, I ran into that brick wall here on your site on a post from a long time ago. But that’s okay, if anything, that brick wall served as fuel for my passion. Like air fuels the fire. As a result, I allowed myself to write about it.

    If anything, your brick wall served as fuel that allowed me to burn my passion brighter. Yes, you are right, there are so many out there that are amazing at their craft (like yourself).

    It took me a while to figure out why I kept running into these brick walls everywhere.

    I’m guilty of my own brick walls too. Once I started removing them, I notice I started beating myself at my own game and moving forward. It’s kind of like playing the Monopoly board game. How many times did you land on the same property before you finally bought it and reaped the rewards of it?

    That’s what I mean by beating myself at my own game.

    So I finish my comment with one additional line of thought to chew on.

    Beat yourself at your own craft???

    Hmm…. thanks for reminding me which race I am in.