That was a question I pondered as a I read Clayton Christensen’s aptly titled, How will you Measure your Life? The book itself is a great read and I highly recommend it, but for me, one of the most intriguing parts of the book was simply the title. The question “how will you measure your life?” is something that I grapple with each day consciously or subconsciously.
As a college student and a competitive distance runner, my life seems to be constantly measured in numbers:
GPA, class rank, number of miles run in a week, 5k time the list goes on..
These things aren’t all bad - they make evaluating life a lot easier. If my semester GPA is over a 3.7, I know that I should be able to make the Dean’s List - great success! If I break 17:00 for the 5k, I know that I had one of my better races, another great success! If these numbers don’t come out exactly the way that I want, then I am a failure, right?
Behind every number there is a story.
I would propose that we measure our lives based on those stories.
In distance running, there are too many factors outside of my control that could impact the outcome of a race, and for that reason you should never solely measure yourself by the time that you see on the clock when you cross the finish line. The important thing to remember is the process that it took to get there.
For me, I get satisfaction out of running faster times, but I could not measure my entire experience by listing my personal bests on a piece of paper. I would have to talk about the friendships that I made, the places that I’ve travelled, the joy of finishing a 13 mile run and then going to the local diner for a stack of pancakes with my teammates, as well as the life lessons that from my coaches. The numbers that show up on the race results page do not even begin to scratch the surface of my experience.
This past year, I traveled to to Michigan State University for the club sports national championship meet. I ran my slowest 8k time of the semester, which was incredibly disappointing - but I knew what really mattered. It was the opportunity to go on a road trip with my team and experience everything from GPS malfunctions to taking over an entire section of a restaurant for a fun and entertaining pre-race dinner. I left that trip with some life-long friends and experiences which I will laugh about for the rest of my life. You just can’t measure that.
It is too easy in running, and life, to define yourself by numbers. They can fit nicely on a piece of paper and be compared very quickly. However, it is important to remember what is behind the number; the hard work that you put in, the friendships made, and the courage to even begin striving towards a goal that seemed daunting at the start.
While numbers may be simple, the stories behind them are too rich to ignore and provide a much more accurate way to truly measure your life.