Defining Success When You Don’t Want to be the Best

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ve blogged in the past about my love for running and why I do it. I’ll never be fast enough to run with the front of the pack- unless I’m still running when I’m 80 (which is when my marathon times will be fast enough to qualify me for Boston.) Although I do like challenging myself and want to stay in good shape, I don’t run to lose weight. I do it because I love it. Running is my stress reliever, and part of what makes me, me. When I’m going through a hard time or my day didn’t go as smoothly as planned, I can’t wait to get out and run. My runs aren’t always easy, and sometimes I just want to stop and go home. But then I think about the feeling I’ll have when I’m done, and that sense of accomplishment is enough to push me through to the finish.

I’ve been passed in races by a pregnant woman running up a hill and a man pushing two toddlers in a double stroller. Lucky for me, I’m not a competitive person. I’m very competitive with myself and like to see how my body can rise up to meet a challenge. But it doesn’t bother me to be passed by people, young or old. Especially right now when I’ve been battling an injury that limits how often I can run or how comfortable the run will be, I’m happy when I can just get out there pain-free.

My dad is also a slow runner; I think it’s in our genes. I’ve seen him get down on himself about races, saying how terrible his time was or how he wishes he could get faster. He just turned 65 and is still running half marathons. I tell him that the fact that he’s out there running at all is a huge accomplishment. Does he really need a time clock to tell him whether or not he’s a success? No way.

John Schwartz recently wrote a New York Times article about running, and it struck a chord with me. He said that when he runs, he’s not out there to prove anything to himself or anyone else. It’s part of his routine and something he enjoys, but he’s not focused on getting faster or running farther.

When you know you’ll never be the best at something, how do you define success? Are there any physical activities you do just because you like them, and not because you feel like you should?

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Isn't it just grand to be alive and be able to do the things we enjoy. Report
When I was 20~something it would have really bothered me that I couldn't achieve a top ten finish in a 5k (and reality was I'd be lucky to make top 50!). I would have thought 'why bother if I've got no shot'. Now in my 40s I've got a notion of how lucky I am just to be reasonably healthy ... I've got much loftier goals than a top-10 finish. Report
I started playing ice hockey about a year ago at the age of 48. I loved skating and did play some hockey up to the age of 16. I will NEVER be able to skate like some of the 20 year olds who have played in high school and some even in college. The people I play with are in their 20's to lower 40's. Some love to tease me about being "old", but you know----I think it's amusing and I have a ball! It's all in fun. I would play hockey every day if the ice time was available. I don't even think of it as exercise. My philosophy is do you want to live or do you want to exist? I've decided to live! Don't be afraid to try something new because of your age, your weight, your appearance or your physical abilities. You never know where your new adventures will lead you in life! Through hockey, I've discovered a new me! That is how I define success! Report
I find it very humbling to do something that you know you will never be the best at or be the "winner". It is good to know that the reason for doing an activity or anything else is simply for your own personal commitment. Report
I love this philosopy, Coach Jen! All of my life I have enjoyed swimming, walking, riding my bike...things that don't call for competition with others. Not that I don't have the spirit to be successful! I do...but I don't want it to hinge on somebody else's performance. I know when I'm doing a good job...I don't need to 'beat' someone else to prove it. :) Report
Being good at something by our own standards counts, not some arbitrary goal that we can't reach due to age, etc. Life is about making the best of it and enjoying it if we can and sharing what we love with others who appreciate it; not about agonizing that there may be someone out there who is "better" than us. Report
I think that not trying to be the best is the key, this article is well written, I noticed at the gym where I go that some of the new ones in class do not move as fast they do not come back and they are missing a wonderful opportunity. Report
I define success as staying in healthy maintenance... and meeting the basic goals for eating fruits and veggies, getting enough water, etc. And, for me of course, meeting Army physical fitness standards... I don't have choice there. Report
I'm a swimmer, more because the doctors thought it would help my asthma as a kid than talent (my younger sister swam faster than me in every stroke except breaststroke). I guess I define success by having good form. I might not be fast, but I look like I know what I'm doing. Report
I love YOGA. It looks SO simple, but it isn't at all. Report
I think how I define success varies depending on what I'm trying to do, but really what it boils down to is being able to do something--especially if it's something that at one point in my life I wasn't able to do or didn't think I'd ever be able to do.

I have a number of physical activities that I enjoy--I enjoy playing tennis, and soccer, and recently I picked up fencing which is a blast but very challenging physically. I'm not very good at any of the above, and I don't know that I ever will be, but the very fact that I'm out there doing it is success in my book. Report
I know my diet will never be perfect, I am happy just to be able to maintain my goal weight, and as long as I eat right 90% of the time, I don't beat myself up over the other 10%.

I will never be a great athlete, but I am ok with that too. I have to work my fitness activities around sciatica flare ups and cancer treatments. I don't have the same level of energy as I did before cancer, but I still find ways to work within my limitations, and I try to do something every day that is active. I may not be burning a lot of calories, but it really helps with my mental and emotional well being. Report
I define success as "feeling good about something". My favorite "activity" is yoga. Another "feel good" thing. Now I'm learning to feel good about walking as fast as possible - just to FEEL GOOD! Report
I like the idea of running for personal balance---for your SELF---not to compete, not to beat a number. Just to feel good. Report
Wonderful! I love the NYTimes article as well:) I used to say when I run it's like their jogging speed, when they are running, I'm trying to speedwalk in the back... Report
I LOVED this; just what I needed. I'm battling through an injury right now that is keeping me from running as scheduled. Your blog got me a little teary eyed. I'm so encouraged. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Report
There are so many people out there that feel the same way you do, and that includes me. I appreciate the blog. I could have written that word for word. Thanks for sharing. Report
I would consider it a success if I could start running without shin splints. Report
You ARE the best in my book... because you are running for the same reasons that I cherish running. I can tolerate the competitive running world, but it certainly isn't for me either. Report
Thanks your blog could have been written by me. No one understood why at 54, I took up running. I don't run to win races or to get any medals. I run because I enjoy it and I wanted to prove it to myself that I could do it. I'm now 55 and I'm on week 8 of the C25K series and I feel good. When I run I feel so calm and it seems that my thoughts are so much clearer. I sometimes pray or I just listen to hear God voice as he speaks into my life or listen to the sounds of nature or music. Many have told me I'm crazy for even wanting to run but everytime I conquer additional time on my runs I'm sure to text them of my accomplishment. Run on, run on Report
happy to see someone who does their own thing. walk or run to a different drummer . feel good about what ever you do . Report
Your timing is just impeccable! I was out on a 3-miler yesterday, and I was feeling GREAT. The sun was shining, the temps were perfect, the music on my headphones was energetic and helping me keep pace. But then I had to run through a throng of middle-school aged cross country runners and their parents. At first, I wanted to run on the other side of the street, so that I wouldn't be seen huffing and puffing my way past these trained, athletic tween runners and their competitive parents.

But then I saw my coworker was there, a friend who knows that I've worked SO HARD to lose 50 pounds and to be able to run, who knows the joy of running and the pain of not being able to (he's had too many knee injuries to be able to run distances)... and I wanted him to see me, to see how far I've come.

And today at work, he said, "Hey I saw you running out there. Looked like you were in a good rhythm!"

That made me feel like a million bucks... just putting myself out there and feeling like a runner IS my success. Report
Success, is getting out there and doing It.
Great blog Jen! I think I define it similarly to yourself. I focus on the competition with myself rather than others or else I just end up feeling bad! I can be a bit competitive as well but can usually put a positive spin on it rather than getting down on myself. A few weeks ago while out for a run a 60ish year old man passed me...I had a moment where I thought "Wow...I just got passed by an old man." But then I focused on this thought... the only way I'm going to be doing the passing when I'm in my 60s is by focusing on my own pace and my own goals today! Report
I feel the same way about running and every other activity I do. I do it for my own enjoyment and I am happy to be doing it at all, regardless of my speed. Report
Applause! I apprecaite anyone who does things their own way and in their own time. It's wonderful to hear that you found something you LOVE to do, that alone should be enough to keep at it. My wish for everyone who reads this is that they find what makes them happy and DO IT! Make time for it, introduce the ones you love to it, tell people you have something you love (even if you want to keep details private) but just share that you've fallen in love with yourself! Report
THIS is a great article!!!! I just began jogging about 3 months ago with the couch to 5K program. I have been doing 3 miles 3-4 x a week for about 3 weeks now. I actually had someone ask me "DOES IT HURT?" I had to laugh, NO IT FEELS GOOD!!!! LOL -- thank you for sharing this!! Report
I'm fortunate enough to have two activities that I enjoy enough to do them just because I enjoy them and not for any goal. They are running and Zumba. They each suit a different part of me. And you should see me when they get together (like at a Rock N Roll marathon) have you ever seen a dancing runner?! LOL Report
I am competitive to the point that I make myself miserable. I want to be better than the me of Yesterday. I feel that if I'm not the best, fastest, strongest, etc. that I am not equal to my competition. Its irrational, I know. Its something that I'm working on. I would love to be focused on just enjoying the run. Love the way this blog is making me think. Thanks for posting. Report
I am not a runner, but I enjoy the challenge of running. Hopefully one day I will be a runner. Report
I was just thinking about the topic of defining success the other day. My local news had a story on that presented the findings of a study on weight loss efforts. It found that the vast majority of people who set out to lose weight start out strong because they are excited by the prospect of losing weight. However, it found that they give up because although they realized what the efforts they would have to put forth the reward and success of weight loss did not come soon enough. BINGO!! Exactly the problem! Most people know they need to exercise and eat right and they start out strong doing both. However, they define success exclusively by the # of lbs. lost. As Sparkpeople know, when it comes to actual pounds lost you put in ALOT of effort to lose a little. How many fitness minutes do you have to put in to lose 5 lbs? For me it would be upwards of 5000 minutes! So, of course if we define success by pounds alone we will feel unsuccessful and give up. Now try defining success by your improvement in health (less medications, lower blood pressure, stellar report from your bloodwork), energy, improvement in attitude and so many other more important factors than how many lbs. have been lost. In any aspect of life success is not a one size fits all concept. Your personal success is determined by how you define success. If you set narrow, restrictive measurements you will find yourself quickly disappointed and giving up. Report
I run for the personal challenge and to help stay in shape and maintain my weight... some days I run like the wind and other days I run like a turtle but I'm okay with whatever my mind, body and soul is up for because I just love to do it; it's that one part of the day when I don't think of anything and enjoy the solitude. My favorite time to run is early in the morning and it keeps me energized throughout the day. My favorite quote is "the best inspiration is not to outdo others, but to outdo ourselves"... it keeps me going. Report
Personally, I don't see it as being the best out of everyone else, I see it as becoming the best me I can be. If that means I can do a little more than I did last time, then I'm becoming the best me...

If I do better than someone else, great.

If I come in last, even better - it means I did it. Report
Part of why I run is to socialize. It's the only opportunity I get to engage in face-to-face with many people. Needless to say, pace doesn't matter. Report
yeah, I like hiking. there is no best, unless it's who can walk further, but I'm not up to that. my dad was always faster so I never thought of competition he led, I followed. LOL Report
Thank you so much for posting this. This is exactly how I feel about running. I often call myself "the turtle". I run to beat my own pace, prove to myself I can accomplish a distance, but mostly I just run because I love it and that's enough for me. :) Report
I like to walk, just walk. I don't care how fast or far I walk but lately I do find that I would like to walk with someone instead of always alone. Report
THANK YOU! To me, this is the best blog I've ever read on Sparkpeople about exercise. We (United States of America) have a very competitive, individualistic culture, and everything we are exposed to from an early age says "try to be #1 and strive." There are good things about this! But I am weary of the pressure, both internal and external, to compete continuously. It affects everything: our jobs, our social lives, our family lives, our health etc.

As a person who is definitely feeling her age (53) and seeing the reality that I can no longer physically do everything at the same level as my 20-something self used to do...I find peace in accepting that it is ok to do things without having to "win." Zumba, bike riding, walking, swimming, water aerobics...all things I do for my health and to feel good about myself. Not to beat the clock or become "the best." Report
For me - any activity at all is a major accomplishment. I grew up in family where exercise was not a big deal, and spent all of my teens and much of my 20s morbidly obese, I am no longer, but now I struggle with MS! It's like I have a no movement curse! It amazes me when I try a physical activity and enjoy it - Im like a kid in a candy store. I can't compete with you, but I can try to do this for me! Report
I still can't convince myself that I love running and I'm not nearly as fast as I'd like to be but I try hard to not let either of those things bother me. I know running is good for me and the best motivation is knowing that I'll have that awesome feeling I get after I've finished the run. That's enough of a goal for me. Report
When I compete (not often now, but I was a competitive swimmer in my much younger days) - yes, I want to win. But even more, I want to be better than I was the last time out.

However, for things I don't compete in, the goal I have always set is to be the best that I can be - at whatever it is...a physical activity or just being a friend. Both are equally important & deserve the best effort I can give them. Report
I'm not, runner, (right now), but I do bike (alot), for me, it is not about being the fast, but just enjoying it. Report
I always thought my bones were too heavy to run fast, I think my runis more like a job.. but I am moving and it feels good. I am more of a treadmill runner, when I hit the road it feels harder to me. and that is what I need to get over..
Thanks for the blog.. it was very helpful.
I am a pretty slow swimmer, and have been for the eleven years that I was swimming regularly. Yet, I can swim TI-style butterfly stroke and most of the time eschew wearing fins despite not having the most flexible ankles. I don't care for races, and yet I have been taught some fine points in private sessions by competitive swimmers and coaches. Some semi-competitive swimmers have been impressed by what I have been able to do--they are less likely to poke fun at my swimming than people who use the lap lanes to socialize. I probably could have been on a Master's team in my over 50 group (when I'd had the time to swim) ... they always would welcome slower swimmers because those teams are not just about competition and beating out the other teams.

CESIRACOLLINS, I did have the misfortune to have been involved with a "competitive" yoga studio, based on Jivamukti and Dharma. I was not looking to master advanced asanas. Still not. The trick is I singled out two of the "mildest" teachers there for a few classes, then beat it to a mild-practice studio across town. And now I am involved with a world-class studio that is all about "middle path". Practice there is a bit vigorous, but healing seems to begin at the middle path, whatever the practice.

And, I mostly practice yoga at home to CD music ... Report
Success is when I beat my own time. When I can walk or ride the same distance in a shorter amount of time. I don't care about anyone else's time because it doesn't affect me. They do however get on my nerves when they display their "fluff" attitudes towards others, though I am happy for them but can they do it day after day? Report
My goal for any race has always been to just finish. I remind myself that I am not a pro and will not win, and that merely completing the race is an accomplishment to be proud of. Report
For me it's singing. I'm in a competitive chorus with five international gold medals, so as a group, we're good. However, I'm past my prime with my voice. The high comes to me, as many others have said here, just from the singing itself, and the knowledge that I'm steadily getting better, even with my vocal chords occasionally betraying me. It just takes me longer to warm up now. The oldest woman in our chorus is 76 (I think - we all look young!), so I've got a long time to enjoy this hobby. Report
Spot on! My love is walking. I"m not in it for any competition. I do it because it makes me feel good and relieves my stress! Amen to that. Report
For me it's dancing. I started dancing last year for the first time since I was a child. I was well over 200 lbs when I started and it was so painful on my knees, and I couldn't keep up aerobically with most of the class. Instead of giving up, I challenged myself this summer by taking several more dance classes with dancers at much more advanced levels that I am (or probably ever will be). Surprisingly, everyone has been so supportive, real cheerleaders for me. I guess I surprised even myself. I'm now taking four classes (Hip-Hop, Jazz, Tap, and Ballet) a week, I can make it through a Hip-Hop class with the best of them and instead of being in pain, I feel lost when I go a day without dancing or doing dance stretches. I imagine if I'd spent time being competitive with the other dancers, I would have walked out the first day I walked into class. I'm still the heaviest person in all my classes but that's changing, slowly, steadily. And I can touch the floor with my palms when I bend and stretch now. Like many others, I count success by how much more my body can do each day, each week. Report
Finally someone gets me! This is what I've been trying to tell all my friends that want me to sign up for a marathon. I can't stand it when they ask me "so how fast are you running?" or "I'm doing a 12 minute mile, how about you". My answer: I have no idea, all I know is that when I start I feel a certain way and when I end I feel awesome. Report