The Power of the Participant

Two Races, Different Perspectives

Race day was here and Cindy, my bride of 26 years, was about to run her very first half marathon. She’d been training for months, preparing for the Dallas race and we were excited to cheer her on to the finish line. The starting gun sounded and off she ran with thousands of other runners, heading onto the 13.1 mile race. That was our queue, as her support team, to get to the car and make our way to a spectator cheering area, just a few miles down the road. We repeated this process over and over again, cheering her on along the way.

A few hours into the race, something caught my attention. Around mile twelve we witnessed exhausted runners who appeared to be re-energized by our simple words of encouragement. With a bit more pep in their strides, they pressed on towards the finish line.

Shortly after Cindy completed the Dallas Half Marathon, I wrote an article titled “The Power of the Spectator” based on what I’d observed during her amazing race. I’d come to realize, spectators had a great opportunity to encourage others in reaching their goals and personal finish lines.

A Change in Perspective

This weekend, Cindy and I ran another race, the Nashville Rock n Roll Half Marathon that happened to be on our 28th wedding anniversary. I’d been thinking about the earlier article, “The Power of the Spectator” and wondered if there was something similar to learn, this time from the perspective of a participant. So I asked Cindy and our friend Amy to try an experiment with me while running today’s race. Let’s see what opportunities we have as race participants, to connect with others.

We each finished the race a few hours later and had a great talk on the drive home about people we met along our runs. I encountered runners with ribbons pinned to their gear. Some had pictures of someone special, printed on their t-shirt, leading you to ponder the back-story? I asked many about what these things meant and most were eager to share, as we moved along the course, telling their story of a child that had passed away or a friend going through a serious illness. We had this unique time, journeying together, relating as two participants in the race.

A Platform of Possibilities as Participants

Each morning we rise with new opportunities, to touch the lives of others. Much like race day, we participate with all kinds of people. We encounter them in the office, at school, down the street, at Starbucks, and in our homes. The grind of life can be relentless, encouraging us to simply make it through another day. Imagine a gifted athlete settling to do just enough, but never choosing to pursue with purpose, all the possibilities of their talents. Each of us makes similar choices each day. Will we do just enough to get by or pursue, with purpose, all the possibilities we have to encourage others along the race with us?

Start with Awareness

Let’s begin by considering where and how we participate with others? Look around you right now, who are you participating with at this moment? Maybe you’re on your lunch break or on an airplane with fellow travelers? Maybe you’re heading into the boardroom or leaving for a weekend retreat? Our typical day brings us in proximity to a variety of people. We know from doing life together that some are having great days and others aren’t.

Motivation Matters

As a teenager, I volunteered as a summer camp counselor for our local YMCA. I initially got involved as a way to stay busy and have some fun. Eventually, I came to realize that time with these kids was something I enjoyed and they seemed to love it as well. Even as a teenager, I could have a positive impact on the lives of others. This awareness carried over as I entered the workforce. When we spend time with people around a common cause, it brings everyone together. We begin relating and caring for one another.

There are many reasons people get involved in the lives of others. Let’s not fool ourselves; in some cases, it’s very self-centered and personally motivated. Sometimes we wrestle with what we’re going to get out of a relationship, that’s normal and hopefully rare. There’s something special that happens when our motivation becomes selfless, when we approach getting involved with others for no personal gain, just helping someone, no strings attached. Ironically, there’s a byproduct of selflessness, which is the satisfaction that we’ve helped someone experience greater joy in their life. Motivation matters and people know when we’re sincere and when we’re not.

Let Go Your Ego

As participates, we often come to the table with more experience than others. A manager or team captain would be great examples. Someone older and more mature is likely to have a position of authority in the eyes of someone younger and less experienced. When we’re in this position, our influence on others can be more than we might expect. It comes with unique responsibility, to interact honorably and not overbearing. We’ve all worked for someone that let their position go to their head. It’s easy to fall into the trap; it can show up as boasting about what we’ve done or sharing facts that are meant to show our superiority over others. We sabotage the platform we have as participants when we let our position fuel our egos. Share from your experience but be aware when it crosses the line, simply meant to impress others.

Becoming a Receiving Recipient

Let’s turn the tables for a moment and consider things from the perspective of a recipient. When you find yourself participating in a group and encounter those that want to engage you, what’s your responsibility? You have an incredible opportunity but will you engage or go into camouflage mode? Engaging with others has a risk. For some, even the thought of speaking to someone they don’t know freaks them out. There’s a natural defense mechanism that’s good to be aware of, it keeps us safe. Likewise, It’s important to learn to relate with others, even other people we are just getting to know. As I discovered on race day, people have interesting ways of inviting us to engage in conversation with them.

Time to Participate

I encourage you to take intentional steps to engage with your fellow participants. Walk a richer life by getting to know those around you. Consider the unique ways people are communicating to you, inviting you to engage and participate with them.

See you on the racecourse,