Recently, I got out biked by a guy who was riding a cargo bike with two kids on the back. It turned out to be a lesson in perspective.
And it got me questioning my fitness, something I pride myself on, and it got me questioning the success of my crusade to be a minimal car use family. I mean, I’ve been focusing a lot of energy lately on getting us back out on our bikes and out of our van. And, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. But this guy, he had me beat.
Not only was he faster than me, when I was solo and he definitely wasn’t, but there was also no way I would’ve biked up that hill with my kids in tow – I would’ve gone around the longer, flatter way.
Was I just fooling myself? Was it time to throw in the towel and stop pretending that I was actually accomplishing anything or had any right to give advice?
I’m going to go with the second.
Here’s what happened:
I was biking to a friend’s house for a BBQ. My family was already there, so I was biking solo. I pulled out of our side road right behind this guy. I was checking out his ‘rig’ because, if you didn’t know, I’m kind of obsessed with cargo bikes.
One of the questions I’d always had about the longtail cargo bikes, was whether they had a lot of sway in the backend once you got a few kids on there? There can be quite a bit of sway when I have one kid on the back seat of my bike, and another in the ‘towing’ position on his bike (check out our biking set-up for twins here.), and I had secretly or not so secretly longed for a cargo bike thinking that they’d be more stable.
Here was my chance to find out the answer – I was watching closely.
So, there I was innocently biking along envying his set-up, just a little bit, when I became aware that he was actually pulling away from me. I was riding a road bike built for speed, pedaling hard, up a fairly significant hill, and I couldn’t catch him.
My legs were burning, and my lungs were screaming for air. I was working as hard as I could, and he was still pulling away. On a HILL with TWO KIDS on the back of his CARGO bike.
I could’ve used the excuse that I’d been training pretty hard for my fitness test at work and my legs were tired and sore – but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have held up.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TOP?
By the time I’d gotten to the top of the hill, my thoughts were racing. What was wrong with me? Why was I so slow on my bike? Had I been too complacent about my fitness because I’d been so tired and sore lately? Was this karma coming to get me because I’d been feeling pretty proud about some of my fitness accomplishments and was actually thinking of taking on a marathon?
This scenario seems to happen to me semi-regularly. I get absorbed in tackling some challenge, and I start to think that I’ve really got it nailed, and then out of the blue, I come to the realization that actually my accomplishment is pretty insignificant, and there are lots of people doing it better and with more grace – and fewer tears – than me.
Take my recent backpacking experience. I put a lot of preparation into planning the trip and making sure my kids were ready. I was really proud of it. (You can read about it here.) But, the thing is, we got to the beach, after what was quite a struggle for me on the hike, only to find that there were other families there with their little kids. Had I really accomplished anything to be proud of? Something that set me apart? Or was I fooling myself?
These kinds of realizations are hard on the self-esteem. They really make me feel insignificant and, maybe, a bit foolish too.
They also make me feel like giving up.
Things aren’t always as they seem AKA perspective:
The problem with judging your own accomplishments based on what you BELIEVE others have accomplished is that you don’t have all information. You’re only seeing a small slice of what’s going on.
And you’re biased – and not in a good way. I think that it’s human nature to attribute a greater amount of success to others than ourselves. You will naturally discount some of the challenges that you had to overcome, while blindly giving the other guy points for the exact same challenges, when making your assessment of how your success stacks up.
Of note, my husband completely disagrees with me on this point. He thinks there’s a significant number in the population (think the Donald Trumps of the world) who are far too willing to attribute success to their actions, even when there is irrefutable proof of the opposite. Maybe our difference in opinion is just evidence of my own bias towards thinking that others are nicer, kinder and more humble than me…
Getting back to my point, however 😉
I NEED TO CUT MYSELF SOME SLACK
I’m pretty sure that I’m better at cutting other people slack for being handicapped by their struggles than myself. Okay, I know that I am – I get told that by people who care about me on a semi-regular basis.
In the backpacking example, I didn’t know anything about the other families on the beach, other than they were camping on the beach. Maybe an entire team of people had helped them schlep their gear to the beach – unlikely, but maybe.
I bet the TWO parents (as opposed to just me) didn’t have a chronic condition either. Plus, my kids are wimps. Just kidding – they’re amazing.
And when it’s all boiled down to what is important, my kids and I had an amazing time. So, who cares if someone else was ‘doing it better’?
And what about the guy on the bike?
At the top of the hill, he stopped. I assumed that he was stopping to catch his breath, because I certainly needed to. Of course, his stopping allowed me to catch up, and I realized that he’d actually stopped to answer his cell phone. He didn’t appear to breathing hard at all – he could talk at least.
As I rode by, I called out that they were so fast! He chuckled and said, “Yes, they were. It’s the beauty of electric-assist.”
The bike had ELECTRIC-ASSIST. I hadn’t been out biked by a human. I’d been out biked by a battery – which I’m totally okay with for some reason.
It’s all about perspective.
The question really is, though, why had I even been worried about it? The hill I was biking on was a tough climb, and I should’ve been comfortable in my own level. Knowing my own backstory, I was aware that I’d spent the previous day crippled by severe pain and that my energy levels were low. I knew that I can’t bike as much as I used to because it hurts my neck.
So, why on earth was I be comparing myself to a man who I knew nothing about? Other than what my eyes were showing me – and they’d certainly deceived me.
Besides, and this is the really important part, even though life might seem like competition, it isn’t.
Even, if he had ‘beaten’ me without an electric-assist, so what? Does it really make any difference in my life? If, I don’t let it that is?
Having a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ attitude only results in stress. It’s not possible to truly assess how you’re stacking up against your neighbours, friends, colleagues, the other parents at school drop off, or any of the myriad of strangers you meet every day. Nor should you even try.
You are you. You are a unique individual with unique strengths, weaknesses and challenges. We don’t even all like the same things – so why on earth would we try and compete with each other? It’s not healthy. It’s not productive.
Leave the competition on the sports fields (or the Scrabble board) where it’s healthy. Where the playing field is somewhat level, and everyone knows that they’re in competition with each other.
I know these are words that I could remind myself of a bit more often. It would go a long way to shoring up my mental health. Let’s just say, it’s a work in progress.
The takeaway message:
So, what’s the takeaway message here? We’re all individuals, and we should applaud what WE see as OUR successes and not try and measure them up to what someone else is accomplishing. They have a different story.
If you know that you did a good job, then you did. Full stop.
Celebrate it and don’t look to minimize it, by seeking out others’ accomplishments to compare it to.
Because, if you look hard enough, you’ll always find someone doing it better – with or without electric-assist.
If you have stories that illustrate the power of changing your perspective, please share in the comments below.
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