In a fascinating presentation given by video game designer Jane McGonigal at a Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, she mentioned that one of the five regrets most frequently voiced by hospice patients is how they wish they had lived their lives true to their dreams, instead of doing what others expected of them.

How tragic it would be to arrive at this stage of your life and have a regret of this significance.

As I watched Jane’s presentation, I was reminded of advice I had received many years ago from my college track coach. I was near the end of a race, rounding the final turn heading into the straightaway toward the finish line, and while I was running I kept looking over my shoulder at the guys behind me.

When I finished, before I could even re-gain my breath, my coach let me know in animated fashion just how he felt about me looking over my shoulder. “If you were running as hard as you could run, you wouldn’t have to worry about the next guy,” he told me. “Run your own race.”       

I’m sure Coach Evans wouldn’t remember the blistering life lesson he taught me that day. I doubt he remembers me at all, since I wasn’t exactly an elite runner.

The fact is that I wasn’t looking over my shoulder to see where the second place finisher was. I was looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t going to finish last. But the lesson was no less significant. Run your own race.

Running advice

This advice holds true on several different levels and it holds true whether you’re running a race, running a business or trying to run your life. I find it regrettable how often we run our businesses, and measure our success, based on how successful someone else is with their business.

It seems some of us have an overactive need for the approval of others. In the process we let other people or things get in the way of what we could be.

Small businesses are reflections of what their owners believe about themselves — what we believe we’re capable of achieving and what we think we deserve to achieve. We run our businesses based on these beliefs, many of them learned when we were kids.

If the other runners had beaten me in that particular race, how would it have changed the way I view myself? Would I have given any thought to the other 99 percent of the population who couldn’t have finished that race at all? Would I have thought, “How can I use my energy, drive and competitiveness to further my own goals in life?” Or would I have defined myself by the fact that other human beings happened to beat me this one time in this one race?

When I was looking over my shoulder to see how the other runners were doing, I was diverting my energy away from what I should have been focused on — running as hard as I could run, regardless of where the other runners were, and focusing on the finish line.

Coach Evans and hospice patients have it right. Run your own race. Live your life true to your own dreams, not someone else’s. The person we should try to measure up to is the person we’re capable of being.

Chuck Violand understands the unique challenges of small businesses, having owned a commercial cleaning and water damage mitigation company for 26 years. He founded Violand Management Associates (VMA) in 1988 as a consulting, teaching and training resource for owners of small businesses. To learn more about VMA's services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.