When I was in Year 4, I came 3rd in my school Cross Country event. It was a nice surprise because I don’t recall standing out in long distance events before then. The following year I came second, to a kid who did little athletics and was strong at swimming and track events. Second felt like an achievement but… I wanted to win. The only sports event I’d ever won was the wheelbarrow race at my athletics carnival in kindergarten! Year 6 came around and I wanted to make this my year. I’d push myself as hard as I needed to. I wouldn’t rest until the race was over and I’d won.
Come the race itself, at one point I trailed within 5 metres of the same guy who’d beaten me the year before, but got no closer. I couldn’t draw out and get past him. It was bittersweet. On the one hand, I got a placing. I would be going to the district Cross Country event and that meant a whole day off school. For the second year in a row, I had shown myself to be better than all but one of my fellow classmates in my age-group. Yet I would finish up my final year at Primary School without getting that win. I’d still fallen short of that goal. Highschool would have to be when I finally made it happen, instead…
With Year 7 came a fresh start at my new school. I felt quietly confident of getting a strong result- maybe even beating them all and making my classmates take notice? I trained in the weeks leading up to our school cross country carnival, running a few kilometres along the paths and bike tracks in my suburb. I wanted to give myself every chance of victory. I was determined to break my duck and win at last. But when the race came, so did a blunt reality check. I’d dropped to 7th or 8th with the leading guys off in the distance, out of reach. Then I became asthmatic. I didn’t even finish. I felt so dejected and stupid. Who had I been kidding, thinking I could win?
In Year 8 the leading guys streaked away and I just gave up. I figured there was no point trying if I wasn’t going to win and so I goofed off with some of my mates. But then in Years 9, 10 and 11 I got placings- enough to qualify for the combined schools events and even regional events. By now though, that once vivid dream of winning had been discarded to the list of “stuff that mattered in the good old days”. I figured it was just one of those dreams that had passed. I settled for thinking I wasn’t going to win the Cross Country. Sure I was good, but not good enough. There was always at least one person better than me, that’s how it was. I was 17 years old and had begun to figure that in life, there were some things you’d just miss out on.
After that memorable day came the combined schools event, held at the mountain bike course used for the Sydney Olympics. For this race, they pitted my age group (18 years boys) with the 17 years boys. Because of this, I knew barely any of the other guys in my race, let alone whether I was directly competing against them or not. Again I tried staying with the leaders, however this time several other guys pulled away from me as the race carried on. Jogging along the mountain ridge on the last lap, I looked down through a clearing in the bushland and saw guys in other school uniforms, off in the distance ahead of me. By my calculations, I was running 6th or 7th overall. “This is the highest I’ve ever placed at this level”, I thought, “this is a personal best for me!” I immediately felt a sense of achievement and renewed energy to finish strongly. I wasn’t going to win, but I was bettering my Personal Best and that in itself was reason to be proud. Today had been a good day. I descended the hillside to the grass fields and steadily closed out the last 500 metres of the marked course, all the way until I rounded the final bend. Just ahead was the finish line.
“Are you 17 years or 18 years?” a female teacher called out as I approached.
She looked over to one of the time-keepers and said “We’ve got our first 18 years boy here”.
I paced over the finish line and she directed me which side of the tape to wait on as the revelation sank in: My “Personal best” was more than a hunch- I’d just won two in a row!
The thing about analysing your abilities and daring to dream in big, booming, high-definition is this: you find the people you want to emulate. You model your success upon theirs. They are the people you measure your own abilities and progress against. It’s inevitable because it’s part of human nature. To an extent this is a healthy thing- to find the people with form and results you want to replicate, study how they do it and look for any advantage you can gain.
So while I think it’s essential to find those people, at the same time there’s a mistake that is so easy for us to make. It’s a mistake that drains your time, emotional energy, concentration and inspiration. Instead of making you better, it actually sabotages you. It’s a distraction and most of the time, leaves you feeling inferior. This big mistake? Comparing yourself to others. In doing this, you’re neglecting to focus on yourself and one very important question: How are you doing, compared to YOU? There will always be people who are doing better than you, in some facet or another, but compared to your best, what level are you at?