Over the past five years, I’ve been interviewed a couple of times for a “day in the life”-type feature for a magazine or blog. One of the more common questions, aside from “describe a typical work day for you” is “what has been the best day of your life so far?”
The answer is always the same: one of the best days of my life to date was the day I ran the London Marathon in 2009. I finished in a pretty good time (3:38), but it wasn’t my race time alone that made it a memorable day.
The 2017 London Marathon was last weekend and watching coverage of the race; I was reminded of why running the same race eight years ago was such an important day for me.
Every day I feel surrounded by reminders of competition and comparison, and I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. You can’t be an active social media user without seeing daily updates from friends and colleagues about great gigs they’ve just worked, accolades they’ve attained and life goals they’ve achieved. It’s often hard not to feel like you’re in constant competition with your peers.
I know that what we see on social media isn’t often an accurate reflection of a person’s life, thanks to algorithms and personal curation. I also know it’s very easy to feel envious when we see people moving ahead in their career when we feel we’re treading water with our own.
At these times, several mantras spring to mind, like “trust the process” and “you are where you are meant to be.” I’m not much of a mantra person, though I did use a slightly hyperbolic “pain is temporary, glory is forever” during marathon training, because it fitted my running rhythm, and it seemed to motivate me to keep running. Despite this, I’ve found a mantra that works for me at the moment: “you are running your own race.”
This phrase, to me, has two meanings. One, your journey is unique. Two, you should appreciate the mileage you have already done, as well as look forward to the challenges and milestones yet to come.
Comparing yourself with your colleagues won’t give you any magic answers about why they are where they are, and you are where you are because they’re not you. Maybe the friend who posted proudly about getting an enviable gig has carved out a niche in that particular area of sound, whereas you’ve worked across several sectors. Maybe the gig is the result of years of networking to get noticed. Or maybe they were just in the right place at the right time. Whatever the reason, all it means is that you won’t be working that gig this time round. It doesn’t mean that opportunity will never come your way. And by the time it does, maybe you’ll already be doing something better.
Focussing on one specific end goal, or career level, as being the be-all and end-all also ignores how much you’ve achieved so far. Making a career in sound, or in any creative field, takes sacrifice and determination. Appreciate how far you’ve come and the successes you’ve had. You don’t get to mile 26 without passing miles 1 to 25 first.
I had a friend and training partner who ran the London Marathon the year I ran it. He was a more experienced long-distance runner who expected to finish in a time under 3:30. We had both trained hard and were as prepared as humanly possible. On the day, less than halfway through, he tripped over a discarded water bottle, twisted his ankle and had to walk part of the way. He limped over the line after well over 4 hours. I had a dream run, did the first 9 miles faster than I ever expected and finished 7 minutes faster than my best-predicted time. The following year he ran again and smashed his best predicted time, and I decided not to compete altogether because I had already achieved what I wanted.
To my mind, both of us are winners of our own races. I had a great run in 2009 because I was well-prepared and nothing unexpected happened. The following year my training partner had a great race for much the same reasons. We both finished the race we wanted in the end, and it doesn’t matter much when it happened.
When I feel a tug of jealousy about someone else’s career or disappointment about my own, I remember why I trained for and ran the London Marathon and how I felt that day. I did it not to be faster than anyone else in particular, but because I had set myself a goal of running a marathon. I was ecstatic that I finished faster than my best-predicted time, but what made the day memorable was the proof that I made it happen myself.
You don’t have to compete to achieve your goals. Celebrate how far you’ve come. Run your own race.
Kirsty Gillmore: A sound designer, engineer and voice artist, Kirsty will be blogging about Sound Design for Theatre and Film, in particular how to do it on a budget. She will also be sharing lessons learned throughout her career.
About Kirsty: Originally from New Zealand, Kirsty has been based in London, UK since 2002. Her 15-year career has seen her work in music production, post-production, live sound, and broadcasting, including eight years, training with and working for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She established her own sound design & voice production business, Sounds Wilde, in 2010 and now works as a freelance sound designer for theater and film, as a voice reel producer and voice artist.