Whose Race are You Running?

by Jennifer Miller on November 9, 2009

in Personal Effectiveness

The other day I had lunch with a colleague.  Sally is a mentor to me and it’s always a treat when we get together to talk shop. At one point in the conversation Sally said, “Do you ever look at someone else and wonder, “They’re so successful [running their business]. How do they do it? They must know something I don’t.” Now, this question coming from Sally was a real shocker to me.  Sally is an extremely confident and successful business owner; her company has earned a string of awards, including Chamber Small Business of the Year. The fact that she occasionally doubts herself after nearly 20 years of running a profitable business was eye-opening. I’d just assumed that by this stage in her career, Sally has it all figured out and that she rarely questions her business decisions.

How naive of me! Sally is human.  So of course from time to time, she wonders if she’s on the right track.  A certain amount of self-checking is healthy. It helps us determine if we’re on target for what’s important in our lives.When we wonder if we’re on course, from what source do we seek guidance– internal or external? I recently blogged about the effects that different kinds of praise have on people’s performance. Turns out that when we receive praise that compares us to someone else’s accomplishments, it’s not as effective as hearing something specific about our mastery of a skill.  No surprise there, but then why do we still compare ourselves to others?   

Some people say Jealousy is a “green eyed monster”.  If so, its evil twin is Self-Doubt and its cousin is Comparison. If someone as accomplished and self-confident as Sally still gets wrangled by these internal gremlins, then imagine what happens to those who truly struggle with a sense of self-worth. Whenever I’m tempted to succumb to comparing myself to someone else, I recall a book review from many years ago. It was 2002 and I was flipping through a magazine at the hair salon.  Marlo Thomas’  book The Right Words at the Right Time was being reviewed.  In the foreword of her book, Ms. Thomas describes a time in her life when she was beset with self-doubt.  She was about to embark on the same career path as her father, the well-known and respected actor Danny Thomas. Many were comparing Ms. Thomas to her famous father and she was afraid she wouldn’t measure up. Her father told her, “Run your own race, baby.”  (See the entire foreword here.)

These words— so concise, so profound, cut right to the core. No matter the external circumstances, it’s our individual race to run.  The race results that matter most are those we judge by our internal compass, not those of our competitors.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Mazza November 9, 2009 at 9:02 am

“Run your own race, baby.” Love it!

Thinking out loud here on your question why do we compare ourselves to others?

It is interesting that praise that illuminates something specific about us rather than compares us to another is more effective. In reading this I am wondering if one of the reasons we are more likely to compare ourselves to others in our own minds is that our culture frowns upon “tooting our own horn”. We talk a lot about being unique and celebrating our unique contribution, but it only seems ok when someone else appreciates our uniqueness. Does complimenting ourselves in our own mind get caught in a “filter” that says self promotion is the ego talking and lacks character?

Great post Jennifer.

Sarah Nguyen November 12, 2009 at 2:28 am

It’s interesting to note that you perceived Sally’s question as a sign of jealousy. I think it’s normal for people to use the success of others to benchmark their own successes against. I guess sometimes measuring yourself against yourself doesn’t always cut it (psychologically).

Jennifer November 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm


How interesting that you perceive Sally’s reaction to be that of jealousy. If I have portrayed it as such, that was not my intention. She was simply wondering if she was doing all she “should” as a business owner to be successful, both for herself professionally and for the health of her company.

Thanks for stopping by; you are new to the blog. I appreciate your comments!

Janet Cortright November 16, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Hi Jennifer . . .

The Marlo Thomas story is wonderful! I had the book at one time.

Not only did Danny Thomas tell his daughter to “run her own race,” – he told her that he “raised her as a thoroughbred,” and he bought her a set of horse blinders for her birthday – to help her stay focused on her own race. Wonderful advice!

It looks like you’re staying focused and running your own race . . . with great posts and tweets etc.

Enjoy your success. Let’s talk soon.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: