Anti- Competitive Spirit

I never fancied myself a runner but I needed to find a way to take my fitness out of the gym and be able to exercise while traveling so I became a runner. My rhythm is pretty basic - music in my headphones, enough clothes to keep me warm and I hit the streets.

If the weather permits and sometimes when it doesn't, I run next to my son as he bikes to kindergarten, drop-him off, and then I run back home.  I thought I was doing 3 miles with this trek but my ever techie partner brought his smartphone with a "track your run" app" on my last run and revealed that I was only doing a bit more than 2 miles.  On my way home I decided to lap the planetarium park (about 800 meters around) a few times to hit that 3 mile mark.  As I was coasting through my laps, I was struck by how easy it was this time when last weekend, it wasn't so easy.

Sunday, I decided to run the planetarium lap with my buddy, who seems to be able to perform great feats of fitness after not working out for a week. After the 3rd lap, I felt exhausted and started walking and he ran on.  I did not think much of it then, but the day before, I ran around the planetarium 10 times non-stop by myself.  Why do I perform better in isolation?

Isolation was a rarity when I was growing up in a huge family, in a crowded New York City. A city that relied heavily on tests to track the millions of kids it was charged with educating. Unsurprisingly, I was encouraged at a young age to be competitive and did exceptionally well on standardized tests. I skipped grades and was primed to be some sort of academic superstar.  In my teens, I started to resent the weight of these high expectations on me.  My own desires were foreign to me because I was expected to do what I was good at and be the best at it all of the time.  What happens if I want to try something that I suck at but am passionate about?  Am I only valued if I am the best?  These questions and others inspired me towards a non-articulated rejection of the expectations that I felt bounded me.  Especially, the idea that I should compete and win.

I am not alone in this.  I suspect most of the the slackiest slackers I know have the highest IQ's.  They almost always were told they were gifted as children, as I was.  They are left feeling ambivalent if not resentful of their gifts.

"Designating children as gifted, especially extremely gifted, and cultivating that giftedness may be not only a waste of money, but positively harmful," she writes. "The overcultivated can develop self-esteem problems and performance anxiety." An extreme example was Brandenn Bremmer, a teenager with an IQ over 160, who made national news when he entered college at age 10. He told Quart in an interview, "America is a society that demands perfection."In March 2005, at the age of 14, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

The rejection of our gifts presents us with another, heavier burden.  Although we do not wan't to identify solely with our ability to succeed, we should not prevent ourselves from ever achieving success in protest.  Once we accept the idea that we have to work to serve or disprove some perception about us, we can't express ourselves fully which leads to a spiritual and sometimes physical death.

My body is and was capable of running 10 laps with my buddy just as it did the previous day alone. But my mind refused because I perceived the run as a competition and I did not want to win.  I did not want to prove anything.  Yet, the truth needs no proof.  It just is. I am learning how to accept the truth.  I am learning how to win without being defined by it.

1 comment:

  1. thanks, I can relate. I love running, but only alone or so I thought until I saw people running alone in the park at my tempo. Sometimes we run together now, sometimes not. For me, it's a matter of having any kind of connection with my fellow runner. If they're a stranger it's fine, if we're close-it's not.