First, a confession: I was a competitive kid. I always wanted to be first. The best at everything. Whether is was playing soccer at recess or being the top student academically. I was always pushing myself.
It didn’t come from my parents. They were supportive and encouraging, but didn’t push me. I did. A bright fire burned in my heart.
A quick psychoanalysis. I’m the youngest child by 10 years. I grew up in a family of adults. I wanted to be like them.
And my parents were divorced when I was very young. Abandonment issues. Yep. I needed to prove I was loveable. And the way to do it was to be undeniably brilliant at anything that came across my path. I was, in my mind, the hare.
A quick refresher. The hare is bragging about how he his unbeatable in a race. His speed and agility make him superior to any other animal. He tells this to anyone who will listen. Finally, the tortoise gets annoyed and challenges the hare to a race. The hare laughs and accepts the challenge.
Race day comes and, as expected, the hare bounds ahead, leaving the tortoise to plod along. Halfway to the finish line, the hare is so confident of his lead, he decides to take a nap, knowing that even if the tortoise passes, he will still be fast enough to catch him. So he settles into some zzz’s….
Of course, the tortoise does pass him and when the hare finally awakens, he sees the tortoise about to reach the finish line. The hare races as fast as he can, but doesn’t make it in time. The tortoise wins and the hare apologises for being so arrogant. The moral: perseverance wins.
I always acted like the hare. My style was to bound ahead of everyone else, to be seen as the best. I made it my business to be first in the class, win awards, push myself to be noticed.
Yet life had different plans for me. On more than one occasion, I was taught otherwise. These started as physical lessons, then as I got older, they became more abstract and psychological.
Early on, I remember one race in particular when I was about 9. I was in little Athletics, a weekend round up of athletic events with kids from the area. I was running in the 200m sprint and was determined to win this race. I was always determined to win and would put a lot of pressure on myself to do so. When the gun went off, I exploded off the mark. I sped out in front, everyone behind me, the world at my feet. I ran beautifully and powerfully.
Then with about 50m to go, I heard breathing behind me. It grew closer. Another kid was hot on my heels. I tried to push harder, but had burned all my fuel too early in the race. The kid passed me and won. I came in second. It hurt.
A few years later, I was in the same position. Different race. Long distance. We called it cross-country, but really we were just running a course around the primary school. It was a big school, so it was still quite a distance.
Once again, I zoomed ahead and led the race for most of it. I remember the feeling when I rounded a corner and appeared to the waiting crowd. It felt so good to hear them roar. For me.
All I had to do was climb the last hill, round the beacon, descend and power through the last 100m, but once again, I had a competitor at my heels. He followed me steadily up the hill and as I descended, about to round the last marker to the 100m sprint, he passed me. Then he smoothly made his way to the finish line. Once again, I was pipped at the post. I was exposed to the same crowd who were now cheering for someone else. I was stinging inside, but on the outside took it well, shook his hand and vowed to learn my lesson this time.
And I did: physically. I learned to pace myself in races from then on. Even if I could bound ahead, I learnt to let others take the lead and to quietly sit on their heels until the time came to strike. I still had the fire, but learnt to control it.
But for some reason, the lesson didn’t stick emotionally. There was something inside me that still needed to rush, to push, to overexert, then in my mind, to fall short and fail.
So when I started Storylab (now Carben Creative), my video production business, in 2008, I set myself goals that were so big, so unattainable that I’d inevitably find myself coming up short and beating myself up about it. This continued for 7 years. I kept thinking I was the hare, but life made me the tortoise. As much as I wanted to skip steps, jump ahead, enjoy the success I knew was possible for me, I would only be given enough for the next step.
This created real conflict in me. I was living in the future and disregarding the present, feeling that it was too slow for my clever, capable mind. The result was a sense of underlying frustration and repetition of a cycle that would wear me down.
Don’t get me wrong. I did lots of things to try to be in the present. I started meditating, because I’d read how beneficial it was for your mind and soul. But in truth, when I started, my intention wasn’t pure. I thought I could be sly. I used the meditation as a way to trick myself. I remember thinking if I do this, then it will guarantee me to be ahead of the rest and get richer quicker. Oh yes, it was all about making money for me. If I had a fortune, then it would validate my worth on this planet. Hare hare hare.
So I worked hard on my business and focused on the work. I did pretty much everything. A one-man band. It was exhausting, but that fire in me was being fuelled by a childish need, so I wouldn’t let myself rest.
But I had to. My pace was unsustainable. Unlike the hare, when I got so far ahead, I wouldn’t decide to take a nap out of arrogance, I would simply burn out and get sick. I was forced into being the tortoise and I resented it.
This cycle continued and continued and continued. Hare mind, tortoise life. Hare mind, tortoise life. Hare mind, tortoise grrrrrrrr!
It was only recently that I finally felt a shift. I could attribute it to any number of things: probably a confluence of all. I’m about to turn 40. It’s big. I tend to become very reflective at milestones.
I have a daily meditative practice. I eat well. I exercise. I also write stream of consciousness pages every morning. I have developed rituals. More than habits, they are conscious ways to show myself respect. I am honouring who I really am and what I need, not the perception of who I should be. I have started using a mantra, picked up from a beautiful book by Kamal Ravikant. In short, I am learning to love myself.
And in doing so, I have made the profound realisation that I don’t want to be the hare anymore. I want to be the tortoise. I am the tortoise.
I am learning to take little steps. It’s small actions that lead to achievement. Enjoying this process creates a happy life. And that’s what I really want. Happiness. Contentment. Balance. Fun.
There’s a twist.
The hare still has its place. I am a creative. A big thinker. Expansion is my natural state. I still find it healthy to dream, to imagine, to plant a flag in the soil of my future self. And so I do.
Then how might I integrate the two? And if I can, is the the lesson still about perseverance? It is, but there’s a deeper lesson here too.
I’ts to become the hairy tortoise. A unique being. To dream big and move forward step by step. AND do it in my own way. I will express myself the way that feels right, that makes me happy, without the need for approval or gain over others. I will own my crazy, my angry, my fearful, my vulnerable. I will step through darkness and light with love and acceptance. Most importantly, I will share what I learn. It’s scary and zingy and an absolute must for my time here on earth.