The Confidence to Not be the Best

Confidence doesn’t come from being the best at something. It comes from realizing you don’t have to be.

How many times have we found ourselves working harder and harder to be better than others at a specific task, only to then reach our goals and realize we’re still just as messed up as we were before? I’m a runner, and the day I qualified for the Boston Marathon was one of the most amazing days of my life. I had finally proven to myself that I was legit, and I felt like qualifying meant there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish.

Only the incredible feeling of invincibility eventually wore off. Even worse, I felt less confident about my running than I did before I qualified. I became plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. By the time I stood at the starting line, I was a mess. I had gotten sick a few days before the race and knew I was in trouble. I looked around at all the toned, athletic bodies around me and felt as if I was an imposter, as if I didn’t really belong there, as if I didn’t deserve to be there. I had a miserable race and wanted to make myself invisible from the cheering crowds.

I was sick alright, and it wasn’t just physical.

Dallas Marathon 2012

My friends and I sometimes push ourselves to the point of injury to get faster, to get better. We claim it’s because we’re competitive, or because we want to be our best selves. Some of my non-running friends find all of this inspiring. Others think it’s just plain crazy. I think it’s probably both.

Because when it’s all said and done, it’s just not that important. Look at Lance Armstrong. His drive to be the best cost him everything in the end. Hubris also played a huge part in his downfall, but perhaps hubris and the drive to be the best at something go hand in hand.

Wanting to be the best doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be the impetus for some incredible changes in our lives. I think it’s when we make being THE BEST at something more important than anything else that leads to a hollow type of confidence. It’s like not being afraid to jump off the ledge but forgetting what’s waiting at the end of the fall.

Fast forward to today. I can’t honestly say that I’m any more confident than I was in Boston, but I can say that I no longer care as much about how fast or how far I run. Of course I still love to run fast. And long distance running is what I love the most. But I’ve realized neither defines who I am or how I view myself, and I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove, to myself or anyone else.

And if I don’t have anything to prove, it just means I’m one small step closer to being happy with what IS. And that’s good enough for now.

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57 comments

  1. lylekrahn

    It takes a lot of wisdom to discern the difference between crazy and inspiring but it’s a good place to be because that’s where the passion lies.

  2. skippingstones

    Sometimes I think I sabotage my own success because I’m afraid of winning. After you win, there is another challenge waiting for you on the other side, but this time it’s even bigger. The higher you go, the bigger the consequences when you fail. So I don’t let myself win – sometimes I get close enough to taste the win and then crap out, because I’m afraid of what the win brings with it.

    Those feelings you talked about after achieving your longed-for goal seem very familiar to me. It’s kind of like setting yourself up for success is the same thing as setting yourself up for a future failure. That’s a hard thought process to break out of. I’m glad you are on the healthy side of that; it’s something that I’m working on – letting myself try and not being bothered if it doesn’t turn out perfectly.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      That’s exactly what happened to me, Michelle. My very first thought after I crossed the finish line when I qualified for Boston was, “Oh, no, this means I have to actually run Boston now!!!” In other words, like you said, the challenge got even bigger. I should have gone to Boston just for the experience, and to celebrate qualifying, but I trained harder than I ever have and stressed over trying to repeat my previous great run. Being in Boston was extremely intimidating for me, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that I got sick right before the race. Again, I should have accepted that I felt lousy and wasn’t going to have a good race, but instead I let it make me feel even less worthy of being there. Dumb.

      • skippingstones

        THAT’S IT!! Worthy. What a terrible word to get stuck in our heads! I don’t feel worthy of the win.

        I am so, so terrible at taking compliments, but especially congratulations after a win. I LOVE to win, but hate to have the win acknowledged. Because I feel like I shouldn’t win? I always feel like I don’t deserve it, no matter how hard I may have worked to get there.

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        I’ve always been horrible at accepting compliments as well, and tried to deflect them or downplay what it was someone was complimenting me for. I’ve had to learn to just say “thank you” and bite my tongue if I feel unworthy. And even if I LOVE to win, like you, I hate drawing attention to myself. It sounds contradictory but it’s true!

  3. Amanda

    Thank you for writing this. Sometimes accepting that you’re not the best is more courageous than being the best.

  4. rchackman

    So true. I elarned this the hard way of course. I came from a team sport’s background before I got into triathlon. I was firecely competitive when it came to team sports. I wanted my team to be the BEST and I wanted to be the BEST athlete whenever I played. I would get angry at myself for minor mistakes.Triathlon helped me realize and understand that striving to be the Best is not the same as striving for improvement. Being the best relies on benchmarks outside of your control and can really mess with you. Striving for improvement as an athlete really lets you assess your own strengths without so much emphasis on other people’s performance or results. I found the latter to be a healthier perspective.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Exactly. Very well stated. So many of athlete’s are Type A personalities anyway, and are fiercely competitive. Maybe it’s age or trail running, but I’m much more interesting in setting personal goals and enjoying the experience of running and racing. It’s certainly healthier, as you stated!

  5. jodysjourneys

    Very thought-provoking blog! I think it is the fact of trying to achieve something because you think you will be different once you achieve it that can get you in trouble. I found that I was waiting until I lost weight to do things and really be the me I wanted to be on the inside. When i quit waiting until a certain weight goal was reached to really be who I wanted to be is when I really “got it”. Now I celebrate goals reached but they don’t define who I am.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Seems like we’re always waiting for something, aren’t we? I do it all the time, too. I’ll be happy when _________ happens. It’s like living for tomorrow and not being happy with today.

  6. monica

    i like this post. love the line – “if i don’t have anything to prove, it just means i’m one step closer to being happy with what is.” i spent so much of my younger days worrying about what other people thought and comparing myself to everyone else. now i think i spend so much more time being happy with the present state of things. it’s been quite freeing and your post reminded me of that.

      • wyominglife

        Hopefully, as we get older what people think about us takes on less importance. I don’t mean the people we love, the people in our families, etc. I mean that vague, faceless “them” that only exists in our minds. When what “they” think is too important to us we can waste time trying to ‘deserve’ their approval or cringe at actually having their approval.

        Anyway that’s my experience, as I have more years to reflect on, I care less about what “they” think.

  7. oopsjohn

    That some of us push ourselves to the point of injury to get better is so true. In my running days I actually took to heart the mantra, “if it hurts, make it hurt worse.” Yes, maybe you can run through a side-stitch, but not a hamstring or ACL, as I found out while training for a marathon. I thought I was being super competitive when in fact I was just being stupid. 😦

  8. therunningtherapist

    Thanks so much for this post. Are you in my mind? I usually tell myself if I can’t be the best, why even try. I know the answer to that as I get older and it is because! Just because! Doing it is half the battle and enjoying it makes it that much better. 🙂

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I think it’s a common theme for many of us. I really don’t feel that drive to be “the best” anymore, but I am still pretty competitive. I try to be competitive with only myself these days, and meet internal goals, rather than strive for better better than anyone else. It’s much more fulfilling!

  9. Frank K.

    Quite right about Lance. He exhibits the classic Greek tragedy characteristics of hubris and hamartia. Now, what to do with my signed poster of him? Very nice post, and congratulations on the Freshly Pressed designation!

  10. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award | therunningtherapist
    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      It’s very true, at least for me, about the signs. My toughest marathon to date was in the Utah desert, with little crowd support. The race organizers made sure there were motivating signs along the race course. Especially the last six miles, those signs really kept me going. One of them, “Every wall has a door,” became the name of my first blog (Walls with Doors). (And isn’t it satisfying to see former students doing well?)

  11. rickbraveheart

    From years of running I knew these same feelings that you describe quite well. I’m so pleased for you that you learned it much sooner than I did. It’s also a lesson that all of us can weave into many other aspects of life.Thank you for sharing this great story of wisdom.

  12. MikeW

    Checking in. How goes the recovery of your foot? And life, if you’ve time. Hopefully, all is wonderful such that blogging is superfluous!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      As it so often does, life has thrown me a huge curveball, Mike. My foot is fine; I had actually forgotten about the fracture until you mentioned it just now. I started a new post and just needed to add photos when I was rushed off to the ER and diagnosed with a very large cyst that turned out to be ovarian cancer. I had surgery On Friday afternoon, and it appears that we may have caught it early enough to save my life. I have written some notes, but an actual post (or perhaps new blog) is still in the future. I really am fine, am surrounded by love, prayers, and a healing universe, and am looking forward to the next adventure!

      • MikeW

        That curve ball prompts prayers enclosed with this response, prayers for a complete recovery. I am reminded of a firm I had researched some time ago being interested in biopharma, called Jennerex. It has a multi-mechanistic smallpox vaccinia based biopharm drug called JX-594 showing success with high tolerance, low side-effecs for liver cancer, and now being tested on other types of cancer. What is unique is that it does 3, not 1 or 2 things to cancer cells. Lysis, anti-angiogenesis, and cell marking for immune system attack. It’s a privately held research and development company focusing on cancer in the Bay Area with a website by the company name.

  13. Pingback: Positive Running : Confidence and learning to ‘let go’ | Get Going - Get Running
  14. noellieb07

    Great post! That’s such an interesting and honest way to look at the idea of confidence…we get so caught up with being the “best” that we’re unwilling to be realistic at times and be ok with our limitations as well as our strengths.

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