Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Avoid the Comparison Trap and Run Your Own Race

This is Lesson 6 in our 10-part series on getting what you really want out of life. We’re talking goals, dreams, and calling — all stuff I love.

I’ve been sharing my story of not only becoming a writer but learning a lot of other lessons — like the importance of not comparing myself to others. “Run your own race” has become a bit of a mantra to me lately.

Run Your Own Race

Sidenote: if you’re enjoying this series, check out one of Michael Hyatt’s upcoming live trainings on goal-setting. He is the Grand Poobah of this stuff, and I’ve learned so much from him. Click here to see a list of dates and times.

Also, if you need to get caught up on this series, here are the previous lessons (including audio versions with some bonus material):

All right. On with the next one…

Note: To listen to the audio of this lesson, click the player below.

Play

Lesson 6: Run your own race

The other day, I posted something snarky on Facebook:

“So how do you use social media without hating everyone?”

To be honest, I was just venting. I’m a pretty insecure person and can easily get jealous of what other people are doing. And I wanted to know if I was the only one who did that.

I received a lot of interesting responses.

One person told me to pray more. Another person told me to unfriend everyone. But one person said this:

Just remember that everyone deep down just wants to feel loved and important. Anything you see stems from that.

I loved that, because that’s what I want. To feel loved and important. And usually, I feel pretty good about my life — my goals, my dreams, my accomplishments — until I see someone doing better than me.

I know not everyone is this way, but I am. It’s a sickness, I think — this fear of missing out, the comparison trap we often find ourselves in.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Sure, ignoring people helps some of the time. But sometimes, it’s just hard to ignore everyone all the time.

About a year ago, I learned a crucial lesson. I was drowning in stress and overcome with resentment about my situation. On the outside, I looked like I was winning: I had a seven-figure business, a bestselling book, and hundreds of thousands of fans. But inside, I was miserable.

All I could think about was what I wasn’t doing. What I wasn’t achieving. What I had to yet to do. And it was eating me up inside.

A number of people helped me get out of that funk, and I detail all of it here in this article.

I am now a lot healthier and happier. But I can still drift into the comparison mode and find myself not enjoying what I’m doing.

There’s one simple phrase that I’ve held onto all this time. It was given to me by a friend who was desperately trying to beat everyone around him in a marathon (like, a literal marathon), and one of the people he was running beside shouted at him:

Run your own race.

That’s become a sort of mantra for me. I don’t have to compare myself to other people, because we are all playing different games. That’s the fun part. We get to choose the games we play, the crafts we want to master.

When I hear a friend sharing about his biggest month ever, I can quietly tell myself: “Run your own race.”

When I see someone’s highlight reel on Facebook, I don’t have to be mad or assume they’re lying. I can just remind myself that this is not my life. What someone else is doing has no bearing on what I do. That’s their race. I need to run my own.

And when I worry about not doing enough and really not being enough, I can quietly say to myself:

This is your race. Run it well.

Because, really, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To do the thing that only we can do — and to do it well.

So if you struggle with comparison and jealousy as I do, let me say to you:

There’s really nothing else for you to do. Cover bands don’t change the world, as my friend Todd Henry likes to say. And you won’t change anything trying to be someone else.

Let me say that again:

You won’t change anything trying to be someone else.

Run your own race.

See you at the finish line.

How do you run your own race well? You start by setting smarter goals. Learn how to do that in this free live training Michael Hyatt is hosting.

Where are you at in your race? How can you run better in the New Year? 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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  • Manda

    I’ve just been thinking about this issue. I enjoy listening to and creating music–unless I start comparing myself with a friend who is miles ahead of me. That can not only ruin my pleasure in what I can do, but also hinder my progress because it makes me so discouraged! God has an individual plan for everyone. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Stacey Sisk

    Truth. I want to say all the ways this hits me square between the eyes today, but there is too much. To sum it all up, Thank you for sharing this message.

  • Emma Scheib

    Loving this series Jeff. It’s crazy that you feel insecure with all your success! But we are all only human. Huge thanks to you for all your encouragement! I just scored my first small paid writing gig and you have been a huge inspiration for chasing this dream. I’ve also hit over 100 subscribers :p Piddly i know, but i’m following you 12 step process and it’s working!!!

  • Dante2831

    This helps me tons I’ve always felt miserable because my parents want me to do something I know I’m not meant to be. You and many others have inspired me to fight and make habits (almost say set goals). I’m going to achieve something with my life. By running my own race

  • Kevin Johns

    Your words are so empowering and so inspiring. Thanks for being honest with yourself and others and publishing this post.

  • “You won’t change anything trying to be someone else.
    Run your own race.”
    Thank you, Jeff.
    This has been my search for the past year. Becoming myself, and wondering what race I am running.
    Best, Pamela

  • Jeanna Toler Fox

    Several years ago, I decided to run a triathalon. This was a huge decision for me, but not for the reasons you might expect. Triathalons, in case you’re unfamiliar, include three legs. First you swim. Because it’s only the first leg, there’s a tingling tired feeling as you get out of the water, but still you’re invigorated. Then you bike. You’re using a completely different set of muscles that still have some energy left in them, but after a while on the bike those muscles get tired as well. The transition from the bike to the run is a completely different experience. They call it noodle legs. By that point, everything is tired, and it feels as if your legs have forgotten how to stand, never mind run. Part of training includes training the transition to improve speed and muscle memory. Feeling lucky to have stayed horizontal, if in fact you have stayed horizontal because falling is easy with noodle legs, you run. Can you see the obvious reasons why running a triathalon is a huge decision?

    Here’s the not so obvious. I was nearly 300 lbs, so while most of the other racers carried their 140 to 180 lbs across the finish line. I had to carry almost twice as much. This was my own race.

    I won that race. Not as the first to cross the finish line, or the fastest women racer, or even the fastest women racer in my age group. I won simply by crossing the finish line. I never expected to come in first. In fact, I fully expected everyone to have gone home by the time I was done. And that was okay. My only goal was to cross the finish line, so I won. The bonus prize was that I wasn’t last. I passed people in the running leg even with my bad knees, loath of running, and extra 150 lbs. Go figure. I cheered them on as I passed because for them, this was their race.

    One of my favorite televised sports to watch is the Kona Ironman. It’s a 2.4 mile rough open water swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run with 45 mph crosswinds and 95 degree heat. I like watching it because it inspires me to see people do what most would think impossible, but the end is where I find myself overcome by awe, so moved that I end up crying off and on for the rest of the day. The end is when you really get to see people running their own race. The 72-year-old man, the woman crawling on her belly (not her hands and knees–her belly) just five feet from the finish line, the blisters oozing when the prosthetic legs are removed, the pure determination of these people to reach their goals regardless of their baggage. This truly is something to appreciate.

    There are times when I know I can do better. And I think it’s human nature to make an occasional comparison. It’s what you do with that comparison that makes the difference. Do you say, “I’m a failure because my house isn’t as big as my neighbor’s” or do you say, “I really admire my neighbor’s drive. I’m going to use him as a model to get what I want”? Do you say, “They did it, but they don’t have as much baggage as I have so it will never happen for me” or do you say, “they did it even with their baggage whatever it is, so I can too”?

    When I watch the Kona Iron man, I say, “If they can do THAT, I can do ANYTHING!”

  • Sean Richardson

    I’ve been comparing my progress against others in a writers Facebook group, seeing other peoples’ progress it is sometimes good inspiration more often at other times it drives the negative comparison. now when that feeling washes over me I’m going to remember to run my own race.

  • I’ve been enjoying this series of talks. I’ve been having success with this issue by asking myself what one take away can I get from this person. This gives me permission to not demand it all.

  • Carolyn Forrester

    The judgment trap is an awful, constricting place to be. There’s no freedom or creativity in that. Instead, if I can run my own race, I can be true to myself. That’s what I want.

  • “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world…if you do so, you are insulting yourself.” Bill Gates. I fully believe in this quote.