Thief of Joy


I ran several miles this morning, under a hot sun, while recovering from an injury. About a half mile into my run, I glanced down at my watch to monitor my pace, and noticed it was slower. Slower than I am used to running. Slower than most of friends whose company I enjoy in our weekend running club. Slower than any pace I would want to publicize.
Then the battle ensued. That little argument I am accustomed to having with myself.
“Greg, you’re running! You are outside, pushing yourself, when you could have slept in. Celebrate the opportunity!”
Yeah, but…
I should be faster. Other people run faster. Other people run farther.
As Theodore Roosevelt aptly observed, “comparison is the thief of joy”. I think we compare ourselves often. To ourselves. To others. To imposed standards. To perceived norms. When we do so, we miss out on a joy that is ours for the taking.
Recently I published a book. It was my first ever and a lifetime accomplishment for me. I have no designs on moving into a career as an author; I love teaching too much to look for a new profession. Yet I feel this nagging tug regarding the “success” (or “failure”) of my book, and that pull is almost completely tied to the number of copies that the book sells. I know in my heart that I have already succeeded – I published a book! But then a little voice drags me towards a comparison to some unknown, and ever-moving, standard. Success is a slippery target, that I never seem to land on, at least when I compare myself to standards, or perceptions.
A dear friend of mine is running a half-marathon next week. She doesn’t plan on winning. In fact, she her main objective is to cross the finish line before they shut down the event. But there is the rub. Instead of feeling immense pride in the fact she is even attempting a half-marathon, (and the additional pride derived from submitting oneself to months of training and preparation), she has a nagging anxiety about ‘how well’ she’ll finish. That anxiety makes it difficult for her to accept the support of her friends and family. Instead, she is left dreading the prospect of completing the race as a hot, sweaty mess. What should be the eagerly anticipated moment of accomplishing a noble quest, is threatened by the spectre of shame all due to comparison.
I ran this morning, in preparation for an upcoming marathon. It is a race that hundreds of others runners will complete before I ever see the finish line.
I published a book; a story that has brought many people a deep sense of inspiration. But most people will never hear about my book. It will probably never be recognized on any significant booklist.
As I set out my shoes preparing for tomorrow’s run, I know the thief is lurking. It is waiting for me to engage in comparisons that ultimately remind me that there is always someone faster, stronger or smarter than me. I’m learning to accept that reality though. I don’t have to be better to be happy. I just have to be me. I’m learning to find joy in the journey – savoring each stroke of the pen or each stride under the sun.