A few years ago I was cycling with a group of friends on the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia. Someone said to me that they admired that I wasn’t concerned with keeping up with the fastest, more experienced cyclists—that I always remained focused on riding at my pace. I told him, “I’m focused on me and my race. I run, in this case, ride, my race. I ‘stay in my lane’ so-to-speak. If I’m concerned with what other people are doing then I will lose focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not focused on who’s ahead, behind, or beside me—just me and my bike.”
I learned that lesson the hard way as a track and field sprinter. Every race that I focused on one or more other sprinters, I never finished the race as I desired. Either I got a slower time, had a bad hand-off in a relay, or came in a place other than first. When I focused on me and my personal race, my form was always strong and relaxed, my stride opened up, I felt good, and it showed. Even if I didn’t get the time or place that I desired, I knew that I ran a strong race. It’s about my self-improvement, my ability to challenge and push myself past my comfort zones, my ability to test my strength, power, and endurance. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win every race that I ran, but as I matured I began to see that it wasn’t about the other sprinters—it was about and for ME!
That day on Silver Comet, I rode 15 miles faster than any of the more experienced cyclists expected me to do. I never cycled that far so I had no reference point. I told them that when they reached their resting points, not to wait for me to catch up, and if they reached the turnaround point and were passing me on the way back, then I would simply turn around and follow.
They thought I would slow down the rest of the group because I was new to cycling, and unlike the rest of them I didn’t have cycling shoes and clips. But what they didn’t know was that as I cycled my body felt like it did when I sprinted. Many of the same techniques and dynamics are at play, and the same muscles are utilized in the same way in both sports (it’s difficult to explain this concept at the moment, so just believe me when I say it’s true). They also didn’t know that these thunder thighs are powerful and strong, and that my core is stronger than even I know. That day, my pace was actually complementary to theirs, I was always only a few minutes behind them (so I always arrived at the rest stops moments after them) and their shock to see me rolling in strong put a smile on my face that remained all day.
The interesting thing is, all of them started cycling faster trying to keep me from catching up—because if the newbie could catch up then they were slower than they thought. Now they were riding my race. I was in their heads.
Imagine if I was obsessed with keeping up with them at their much faster pace. I would’ve ran out of energy; risked injury, falling, or both; and I wouldn’t have had a great day.
When we returned to our starting location the other cyclists were worn out. They were racing each other (the men mostly) and they all were racing me—whether they would ever admit it or not, you could tell by the looks in their eyes. If you have ever competed against someone, in anything, you know that look. I just smiled.
Being so obsessed with me even caused one couple to argue, which threw off their ride and messed up part of their day. When the group asked me my technique I simply said “I rode my race, at my pace and comfort level”.
After that day they looked forward to riding with me. Without trying, I pushed them, and with intention I focused on me and my ride—each time getting better and stronger.
This is my mindset and focus in all things. When I lift weights, drive race cars on a track, go cycling, or set my course on a path to achieve a career or life goal, I never do well if I’m focused on other people.
I am my biggest competition.
I am my biggest obstacle.
I am the one who either gives my all and leaves everything on that track, or the one who half-steps and gives the bare minimum. My race. Not theirs.
This translates into and transfers over to my personal and professional life.
Sure I can say aloud or think to myself about where I could or should be in my career, but what purpose does it serve? That only depresses me. For a long time. Which is counterproductive.
Looking at friends and associates who have soared to great heights in their career should serve as encouragement and inspiration—highlighting their testimony, and that we all have the ability to rise above and over life’s obstacles. It however should never lead to the utterance of words or the formulation of thoughts that say that I should strive to meet or exceed their accomplishments.
I’m not competing with my friends, associates, acquaintances, or even complete strangers. I’m not trying to be or outdo Oprah Winfrey, Joel Osteen, Tracey Edmonds, Mary Kay Ash, John Maxwell, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Sheryl Sandberg, Magic Johnson, or Mark Zuckerberg, or anyone else.
I’m trying to be me.
The best me that I can be.
I’m running my race, at my pace, with my eyes focused ahead. I definitely need encouragement and to be challenged—especially and with great intensity when I slack off—but it’s never with a focus to get to where someone else is or to run past and edge them out.
I would always be behind someone (as they started out on their race years or even decades earlier) or I would be extremely exhausted and irritable if I did somehow catch up and surpass them. I’m risking my health and much more, trying to keep up with and pass by the Joneses.
If I’m focused on someone else then I’m distracted, and we all know what happens to many distracted drivers—they crash or they cause a crash. Crashes can be expensive. Recovery can be long and painful. Why risk it?
Every time I sat behind the wheel of a car on a race track, I wasn’t concerned about how fast or how experienced the other drivers were. I didn’t obsess with trying to outrace them. I was and always will be focused on me, my skills, the car that I’m driving, and the lessons that my instructors, coaches, and mentors taught me. My safety and survival depends on it. The goal is to have a great day, enjoy the ride, challenge myself, hit those apexes, and get back to the paddock safely. If I get great lap times and place well, that’s a huge bonus.
Don’t get me wrong, I love competing—but mostly against myself—against the fear and doubt that wants desperately to take root and form in my mind and heart. If I can conquer that each and every race, then I’m always the winner. If I do better than I thought I would, then I’m a winner.
In the pictures above and below you see me at the Ford Performance Racing School in Utah—racing Ford Mustangs (which runs through my familial veins for three generations). In both pictures I’m smiling brightly because I had an awesome day and it was filled with accomplishments. Everyone else on that track drove or had experience driving manual transmission cars. I didn’t. I was the only person who had little to no experience. A little back in the mid-90s but that’s all. My then-husband gave me two driving lessons before our trip to Utah. You don’t know how much I appreciated him for taking the time to really teach me.
His teachings and what the instructors taught us about the track and the school rules is what I focused on when I climbed behind the wheel. I didn’t focus on the other drivers and what they thought about me, or even about their skill level. I let drivers pass me on the track and there were times that I passed other drivers on the track. Sometimes I played “rabbit” for other drivers and at times when I needed to challenge myself I would find a “rabbit” to catch, so I could see how well the car handled and how well I handled the car.
But I won’t make moves based on someone else. I must focus on my race and adjust for conditions and strategic conservation of resources. But never because of the other competitor.
Imagine climbing up the side of a mountain. You have on all of your gear and the higher you climb the greater the risk that if you somehow fall, you will die.
So what would happen if you began to obsess about the climber ahead of you or next to you? What if you were so focused about reaching the top of the mountain first that you started spending less time securing yourself each step you climbed? What would happen if you stopped paying attention to your ropes and the surfaces of the mountain? What would happen if you weren’t paying attention to your equipment and supplies, the changes in altitude and oxygen, and weather conditions?
We all know what could and probably would happen, and it’s not a welcoming thought. But so many of us do these same things when we’re too focused on everyone and everything else but what we’re supposed to be focused on.
Earlier I mentioned Joel Osteen. Here’s an excerpt from his book “The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today“:
I decided that rather than typing that entire section, I would just share a snapshot for you to read, zoom in on, and focus for a moment. I hope you don’t mind. If you do, then please go purchase the book and enjoy reading it at your leisure. It’s available in many formats.
My aunt Valerie bought this book for me in October 2016. She bought my sister Alexandra one as well. My sister hasn’t embraced the love of reading books as I have, so her copy is at my home waiting for her. I truly believe that one day she will be inspired to read it. I’m positively speaking this into existence. Yes, it’s just that great of a book that I would love for her to read and reflect upon it. Hmmm does Joel have an audio version of this book? Maybe she can ingest this powerful message that way. Okay so I digressed. See what happens when we get distracted? Back to what I was saying….
This section in Joel Osteen’s book inspired me to write today’s message. Many of us feel like hamsters on wheels because we keep running in life like Joel did in his story, so focused on someone else that we miss our turn, opportunity, etc. I can always tell when I’ve lost focus, when I’m distracted—there’s uneasiness in my spirit, I don’t sleep well, I’m unsettled and anxious, and fear creeps in and drops off seeds of doubt—and then my eyes start looking around at what I lost, didn’t accomplish, let go, didn’t follow through on—and then my eyes focus on what others have, what they have accomplished, and where they get to go. It can be difficult to catch yourself from spiraling out of control. But it’s vital that you do.
Your life depends on you running your own race, staying in your lane, climbing your line, and making sure that you celebrate every achievement no matter how small and insignificant it may appear. It’s your achievement!
I wrap this message up with some final words from Joel Osteen’s book. Enjoy!
Thank you Mr. Osteen for sharing these moving and powerful, yet simple words. It’s amazing how simple can bring the boldest blessings.