Ahead, Behind, Beside, Always Moving Together
Mall of Asia, Race for Life 2015
Before the Race…
“Are you going to run with me or run ahead?”, Yasmin asked, throwing me off-guard.
I answered a nano-second too slow.
“You’re going to run ahead aren’t you?” She followed up.
I was still torn, knowing that we would be running slower but I answered, “No, I’ll run with you.”
She smiled. And right there I already won the race.
I was thinking about that moment at the race, and about the adjustment needed when choosing to walk with others in relationship. It’s difficult for me being so used to setting my own objectives and running at my own pace. I’ve realized that I have in many ways become an efficiently selfish guy. Which I never realized being single, because the ability to mark objectives, fix your schedule, and discipline yourself towards those objectives is seen as a strength, and it is. But being in a relationship introduces a new dynamic to my day, and it’s no longer “How am I going to maximize today?” but “How are we, Yasmin and I, going to make something beautiful?”
Working as a team is harder than it sounds because it’s not simply about agreeing to pray together or sharing your dreams. It’s an uncomfortable process of learning to change your rhythm or lack of rhythm and calibrating to run at a pace you both can sustain. In many ways for me it means speeding up, particularly my maturity and learning to communicate with a female better. (Which probably means I should stop referring to ladies as females.) But it also means slowing down. It means not just running around and be content to share things on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, but learning to put things down, call her on the phone, and say things like “How was your day?” or give a more detailed account to my day than “It was ok.” That might sound funny given that I’m a writer with over a thousand posts floating around, but as Yasmin has figured out by now, I’m not actually that great at communicating on the spot, that my posts are not the product of some communications expert but a process, a long one, of reflection and draft after draft. But I don’t get draft after draft with Yasmin. No guy gets a “save as draft” when communicating with their lady. We only get “published”. And I need to learn how to do that right if I’m to make something beautiful with Yasmin.
During the Race…
“Woah! Look at him!”, Yasmin pointed at a lean-muscled African runner speeding past, already on his way back, much much ahead of all the other runners. “Now he’s fast!”
And he really was. I have to admit to the insecurity of my heart, as my first thoughts were, “I could be running faster than I am now but I have to run at your pace. I’m faster than this.” I felt a tug-of-war within me. One side wanting to run ahead, push my capabilities, and see how well I could perform, and the other thinking about my commitment to run WITH Yasmin, not ahead of her. In hindsight, no one really cares about my time. It’s not like I’m a pro-runner or some sort of celeb. The only person who really cared about my time is… drumroll… ME. I think part of maturing in a relationship is going from wanting to be impressive to your partner to just being there with your partner through everything. That’s more mundane but not because it’s unimportant, it is, like many of the most important things in life, fundamental.
“If you want to run ahead, you can.” Yasmin said, reading my mind. “I can see it in your face.”
I looked at her and resolved to stop considering running ahead. I replied, “No we’re running together. And I’m going to pull you if I have to. We’re not going to stop until we finish.”
And that’s what I did. I took her hand, running a few steps ahead I pulled her to run a bit faster than what we were doing. Yasmin laughed, “You’re so competitive.” And I am, but I realize now that the competition wasn’t about me trying to win a race I never would have won anyway. The real fight was between me and myself. Would I let my personal desire to clock-in a better time beat my greater desire of finishing with Yasmin? I silently told the selfish part of me what I tell everything and everyone I compete with: “I’m going to beat you.” Then I pointed at a couple running ahead of us, “There’s our target. Let’s finish before them. Let’s go!” Yasmin just kept laughing.
I think there’s an extreme that’s quite prevalent in Philippine society, that what’s important is that we all get along in relationship regardless of our performance. That’s a loser’s mentality. And when we gather a bunch of people who think that way, we end up with a bunch of losers. Yes, relationships matter, but performance matters too. Yes, enjoying a party together matters, but waking up early, being responsible, and being highly successful at your calling matters too.
Here’s why: To say that you love someone means that you’re giving them your best. If your best sucks, then what your loved one will get won’t be amazing. If I say that I love someone but won’t push myself, discipline myself, fight my feelings, fight my laziness, fight my fears, fight my selfishness, to be amazing for that person then maybe I need to rethink about what I understand is love. It means I’m ok that the people I love don’t get something amazing.
I’ve realized that to love someone means that the thought of them having less than amazing is more painful to me than the pain of the effort and sacrifice of giving my very best.
And if the pain of the effort and sacrifice is greater than the pain of knowing the person you love will have less, we should really check out hearts.
This is why we need leaders who run ahead. People who say “Don’t settle! Fight!” But we need leaders who’ll take our hand even as they run ahead, reminding us that “Yes, we’re not going to settle, but you’re more important than the goal, to run with you is the goal, and when we achieve greater goals together we will enjoy greater fruits! Let’s pick up the pace!”
Many times Yasmin runs ahead of me. Especially in the area of patience, kindness, and gentleness, which are all part of the Fruit of the Spirit, and just as crucial as self-control (discipline) and faith. It’s also an adjustment for her to see how slow I am at that race, and I appreciate it when she runs ahead, exhibiting more patience than I do, showing kindness when I’m unkind, and being gentle when I my temper starts flaring. But I appreciate it more that she does all of those things not to show me how much better she is, but to be the partner pulling me to perform better in areas I’ve done poorly in. I’m happy that she doesn’t go down to my level of impatience or to my level of unkindness. That would be settling for less. In this race to have more of the Fruit of the Spirit, she doesn’t slow down because I’m slow, she pulls me forward.
Sometimes we run ahead of our partners and the people who follow us, and forget to stay linked. We forget that being good or smart or strategic or creative or kind or full of faith or brave or to have any talent or skill, is for us to run at an excellent standard YET stay linked, with arms stretched backwards, pull people to a higher standard. Sometimes, we stay linked at a low standard and we wonder why life doesn’t seem to be getting better or why things aren’t improving. It’s because we’ve settled together and have forgotten to grow together.
There was a part of the race where Yasmin’s knee started to hurt and instead of stopping, I went behind her and pushed her. Every time she felt like stopping, I would place a hand behind her and push her gently. A friend of mine who saw me, joked, “David! Slave Driver!” We laughed. Yasmin, told me, “Don’t stop. It helps. I want to finish without stopping.”
To make a long story short we finished. It wasn’t my best time, but it was OUR best time. Come to think of it, this was the most fun I’ve had in a race, so I did have my best time. And to see the look of accomplishment on Yasmin’s face after, to know that we didn’t stop, and to know that we finished together is priceless.
I guess here’s the lesson I would like to share: In this race of life, and maybe race isn’t the best analogy, so let me change it, in the journey of life, whether we’re building a family, a business, a community, or whatever, sometimes we need to run ahead. We need to set a high standard and not allow people to settle. Mediocrity is evil. It is selfish. It is an attitude that fails to understand that to love God and love others means to say “the pain of knowing you don’t have my best is worse than the pain of giving you my best.” But sometimes we have to go behind, pushing people forward even if it means we lag for a bit, but communicating that “You’re more than your performance, you’re my partner. And you better ante up because I’m going to push you.”
I’ve learned that being a leader, and we’re all called to lead amazing lives, requires the wisdom to know when to run ahead and when to run behind. But I’ve also seen that in a highly democratized world, where the Internet has given us access to information, perspective, and the power to influence others from our vantage points, a key skill for leaders will be our ability to run beside others. In a world of a million influences, it’s not the leader who says “Look at me. Follow me.” who will change the world. It’s the leader who says, “Run with me. Train with me. Fight with me.” who will succeed. To develop people means that someday they’re running beside you, not behind you. To help the poor means that we’re restoring equity, not simply giving handouts. To educate others means that they someday can contribute to intelligent solutions not merely learn to appreciate the brains of another. To raise mature people means that someday they’re not dependent on you or others. They’re able to carry their own weight.
Maybe we should also judge our leaders differently, not asking “Are they great?” but “Do they make others great?”
I truly believe that the leaders who desire to run with others will beat the performance of those who just simply run ahead of everyone. It’s the sustainable to path to grow. It’s also the more enjoyable way to live.
In the journey of life, if we are to thrive, sometimes, we must run ahead, setting an example, pulling people forward, and not letting them settle. Sometimes, we must run behind, giving people a strong base to push forward. And for this new world of highly empowered individuals, we must learn to run beside, influencing more than ordering, coaching more than commanding. And no matter where we are, ahead, behind, beside, we must always run in the same direction – together.