"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life as a Race: Observations From the Sidelines

Picture a race.

Not two kids playfully challenging each other to see who can make it to the swing set first, but a RACE race. A marathon. A triathlon. Picture a race.

There's a guy or two way out in front, clearly ahead of the pack.

There's a guy or two way in the back too, clearly lagging behind.

Then there's the whole mass of people in the middle. Kind of hard to make heads or tails of what's going on there because they're all clumped together. Some are working as hard as they can to stay with the pack, pushing themselves to their very limit so they don't fall behind.

Others are operating at 75%. They know they could push a little harder, but they're satisfied just to keep pace with the crowd. Maybe they'll save some energy for the end. Maybe they'll be content with the status quo.

Then there are those who could be with the leaders, maybe even beyond the leaders. They know they could do it, and everyone around them knows they could do it. But for their own personal reasons, they too stay with the pack. Maybe they're bored. Maybe they just don't feel like racing anymore. Maybe they never really wanted to race in the first place. Or maybe they wanted to race, but they wanted to do it on a horse. Or a bicycle. Or a stagecoach. But for whatever reason, they're here in this race, so they put in the bare minimum of effort, they hang with the crowd, and they blend into the masses.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

This is exactly what's playing out, day after day, with our children. Public schools, private schools, home schools (yes, I'm leaving no one out) You have to catch up! You have to get ahead! You have to WIN!

It begs the question... who ever decided that childhood should be a race? And who ever thought it would be a good idea to believe it?

The ironic part is that once you're an adult, that particular race is just abruptly over. No finish line, no celebration... it just ends. Honestly, I don't think I placed well in the race that was school (my grades were fine, but I was turned down for National Honor Society, I never "worked up to my potential", and I didn't finish college) But, alas, it doesn't matter anymore. No one's knocking on my door wanting to tutor me in math so I can catch up to my Budget Manager husband. No one's knocking on his office door forcing him to improve his reading speed so he can catch up with me. No, that race has ended, and in its place an entirely new one has begun. As adults we're behind - or ahead - based on jobs, on money, on neighborhoods, on societal standings. It's all about keeping up with the Joneses.

Am I the only one who sees how utterly insane this is?

I tend to make decisions first with my heart. But beyond that I have always been strongly drawn to logic. And it doesn't make any kind of logical sense to subscribe to a system that calls someone "behind" because they're not reading by age six. Behind what, exactly? Behind the average? An average's entire existence hinges on the fact that there are numbers both below and above it. Without a wide range of "normal" there would BE no average. Why, why are we labeling, and pushing, and demanding that these kids catch up? Why should they have to follow anyone else's path, run anyone else's race, but their own? Why should these kids start their lives thinking that they are "less than" somehow? When they are KIDS, when they should be playing and exploring and learning in joy? I honestly don't understand it.

And it's not just a problem of position. No, the problem is with the race. Every position has its own unique set of problems.

The ones in the front, the leaders, forget why they're running. Eventually they're running just to win, regardless of why they started the race in the first place. They lose sight of their goal.

The ones in the back, the ones who are behind, feel inadequate. They think there's something wrong with them, and they slowly give up and push back against everyone who's urging them to catch up. They lose their confidence. They lose their faith.

The saddest ones though are the ones in the middle (which is most of us). They too feel inadequate because they're not winning. And they too forget why they're in the race. But more than that, they get lost in the crowd. They lose their sense of individuality. They lose THEMSELVES.

I will not let - no, I refuse to let - life be a race for my children, or for myself. I refuse to give in to the notion that life is about "winning". Life is not a race. Can I say that again?


Life is not a clear-cut path, but a meandering stream. It's not a merry-go-round, but a roller coaster. It doesn't always go from point A to point B, it doesn't always make sense, and there are sometimes some mighty big obstacles. But it's ours to live. It's our KIDS' to live. It's not about competing with everyone around us; it's about following our own paths.

I really try not dwell on any "what ifs." I try to live in the moment, and fully appreciate the here and now. But if there's one "what if" that keeps trying to make a return appearance in my head, it's the one about my own school experience. What if I hadn't gotten swallowed up in that clump of people in the middle of the race? What if I hadn't lost myself? What if I hadn't let my self-esteem be so badly battered by the teachers and peers who told me I wasn't good enough? What if I'd had that time I always wanted... time to write, time to daydream, time to figure out who the heck I was?. Who would I be now?

I look back, and I just have to feel sorry for that lost little girl. And I don't want to ever have to feel that way about my own kids. I don't ever want to deal with that "what if." I want my kids to be able to learn according to their own time-table, not someone else's. I want them to be able to follow their own interests, not someone else's. I want them to be able to know who they are, and be proud of who they are. Right now. Not after they learn a certain set of skills, or pass a certain test.

I don't want them to lose sight of what they're doing.
I don't want them to lose their faith.
I don't want them to lose themselves.

And so, on behalf of myself and my children, I respectfully opt out of your race.

We choose to live our own lives, we choose to forge our own paths, and we choose to find our own happiness. We choose not to measure our success against anyone else's, and we choose to accept and embrace and love who we are... exactly as we are, exactly where we are. On the sidelines of your race, living life. Exploring in the mountains, playing in the streams, and digging up the dirt.

We opt out.


Jessica said...


Cap'n Franko said...

Yes. I'd rather run my own race at my own pace or simply be doing something I want to do.

Cheese said...

I could not agree with this more, you definitely aren't the only one who feels this way!

Alice said...

The amazing thing is that, although we never intended to enter the race to begin with, once we made the conscious decision to opt out we felt the most wonderful sense of freedom. And isn't that what life should be about?

Stephanie said...


Mom2allofthem said...

I'd rather finish and have my kids thank me for letting them find their true passion, than have them miserable in some J O B, and see yet one more generation raised not knowing what it could have been like!

Roddick Family said...

Wonderful post! So much to take in and think about. Thanks Jen.

Christy said...

Love this! Thanks for the awesome post!


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