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Don’t Let People Convince You You’re Not Good Enough

Posted by on Jan 22, 2012 | 30 Comments

[Edit- this post was based on the idea that our society routinely limits our potential by setting up roadblocks.  Sometimes those roadblocks are institutional in nature.  Sometimes the roadblocks come from other people.  I use a comment on another post by Rob Youngren as an example of the latter, but it wasn't meant to seriously diminish my 'ultramarathon book' idea.  I unfairly characterize Rob's comment for the purposes of making a point as I'm using it as a proxy for a societal tendency.  If you read the rest of our exchange in the linked post, you'll see it wasn't as inflammatory as it is characterized here.  Rob was simply making a tongue-in-cheek comment and I apologize to Rob for removing it from that context.  I have nothing but respect for his accomplishments as an ultrarunner and value his contribution to our community here at BRU.]

Our society has an inferiority complex.  We let other people dictate our actions.  We compulsively feel the need for external validation before we do anything of significance.

How does this work?

We have an idea.  We tell others about the idea.  They tell us how stupid the idea is, why it won’t work, or we’re not qualified in some way.

So we scrap the idea.

A few days ago, I posted about my decision to start a book about ultrarunning (the project can be found here).  The decision sparked conversation in the comments section, including a comment by Rob Youngren.  For those that don’t know Rob, he’s an accomplished ultrarunner with tons of experience.  He’s run Barkley, Badwater, and finished Hardrock multiple times.  In short, he’s an ultra stud.

His comment was simple- you’re an inexperienced back of the pack ultrarunner… you have no business writing a book about ultras.

He’s right!  Well, at least the first part is right.  Relative to many ultrarunners, I am inexperienced.  And slow.  I’ve never won a race.  Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever even placed in the first half of all finishers.  I just DNFed a 50k… after six miles.  I’m so slow, I usually get lapped by the sun.  I can go on.  Not only am I a sub-par runner, I’m also a mediocre writer.  I barely passed my ONE writing class in college, and managed to test out of the rest with a lot of BS.  I have about as much writing ‘cred as a seventh grader.

Does that mean I shouldn’t write a book?

Absolutely not.

In the six or seven years I’ve been running ultras, I’ve done two things that are absolutely invaluable: I trained despite having an incredibly busy life and I obsessively read and experimented with a million different ideas.  In short, I found as many shortcuts as I could possibly find to get to the point where I could finish a 100 miler.

Is that unique?  Not really.  Lots of people do it.  In fact, all ultrarunners I know have busy professional lives… even the elites.  Many have multiple kids and busy personal lives, too.

As far as the writing bit- there’s always a back door.  I managed to get a contract from a pretty big publisher for The Barefoot Running Book despite my obvious shortcomings as a writer.  How?  I accepted that I was an idiot and looked for alternative solutions.  Instead of sending out thousands of query letters trying to secure an agent or publisher, I did research and learned how to self-publish the book.  I didn’t fight the gatekeepers, I ignored them completely and found my own route.  Ironically, the fact that I didn’t need the gatekeepers ultimately led to them seeking me out.  They needed me a lot more than I needed them.  Approval is pretty easy to get when we stop begging for it.

So what would make my book unique?

People that talk about ultras don’t like to talk about shortcuts.  We have a perception that there’s no substitute for hard work.  We need to put in our time.  We need to follow a good training plan, do lots of crosstraining, and eat a strict diet.

Outsiders look at that and get intimidated.  How can they fit that into their busy lives?  It looks insurmountable, so they never attempt it.

What’s the secret?  Tons of people run ultras despite their busy lives.  They don’t just add all that training on top of everything else.  They use shortcuts.  And nobody talks about it.

Enter my book idea.

The book may be a huge success.  It may be a huge failure.  I don’t care, it will be a fun process regardless.  I’ll get an opportunity to learn, and the readership will get to share some cool ideas.  It will help people and add to our collective knowledge.

After reading Rob’s comment, I could have agreed with him and scrapped the project.  I could have deferred to the person with far more experience.  That is after all, our socially-ingrained course of action.

As a high school teacher, I saw this training process.  We would tell kids we wanted them to “think critically.”  We didn’t really want that, of course.  We wanted to coerce kids into believing what we taught, then convince them they arrived at that conclusion on their own.  If we really wanted to let kids think critically, we’d be okay allowing them to openly criticize our teaching.  I don’t recall seeing too many teachers allowing THAT in their classroom.  We taught them to defer to authority or those with more knowledge.  We taught them to respect the gatekeepers that tell them what they can and cannot do.  We taught them they’re not worthy of original thought or ideas.  We taught them to follow, not lead.

Fuck that.

If you have something inside that has to get out, don’t let anyone stand in the way. 

There’s always going to be someone that is more knowledgeable than you.  There’s going to be someone faster. Or more experienced.  Or prettier.  Or more letters after their name.  Whatever.

The key is to learn to ignore those people.  Don’t let gatekeepers keep you from chasing your dreams.

Okay, here’s a challenge for the comments.  Tell me about one dream you’ve had, but someone has acted as a gatekeeper by telling you it can’t be done (or you’re not good enough, smart enough, that race is too long, etc.)

###

[Note- If you read the rest of the exchange between Rob and I, you'll see he was half-joking about the initial comments.  I was merely using that as one singular example of an expert telling us we're not worthy.]

 

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30 Comments

  1. Luke
    January 24, 2012

    This is probably beating a dead horse, since the misunderstanding seems to have been cleared up some what. However, internet articles have a way of hanging around forever and their impact on opinions and reputations can be significant. Having some familiarity with Rob, I am motivated to provide some character reference and defense for him.

    As a bit of history, I have been a reading Jason’s blog for about a year and have been running for a little more than 2 years. I have come to respect Jason for his moderate approach to barefootalism in a culture of near fanaticism, and his willingness to shift paradigms with new observations. I also consider Rob to be a good friend and an athletic inspiration. My wife and I frequently spend time with the Youngrens in athletic and social pursuits.

    While Rob has achieved many amazing successes, you will never hear him boast. He is a humble man who lets his actions speak for him. He and his wife are active participants and volunteers in our local running community, at events and in training programs. They will run with and assist anyone whether they are trying to complete their first 5k or 100 miles. Rob is always encouraging to others as they pursue their BHAGs and will give experience based advice when asked. Sometimes good advice can be hard to swallow, but life is not all rainbows and unicorns either, and he will tell it to you straight. Warm-fuzzies and Smoke Enemas won’t carry you through the tough spots, but good, honest advice may help.

    The internet is a big place with some feeling of anonymity, but the ultra-running community is relatively small and blogs such as this reach a large audience. Someone having read a defaming post might bump into Rob one day at a race and pass him by thinking “oh, here is that guy that douses the glowing sparks of dreams like Smokey the Bear!” It would truly be their loss.

  2. Wiglaf
    January 23, 2012

    Good post just as long as we can still assign to the dust heap of history, the worst idea ever heard: the “Jump to Conclusions Mat.” :-)

  3. Rob Savarese
    January 23, 2012

    Follow your passion Jason and there will always be folks interested in listening to what you have to say.

  4. Barefoot Mecki
    January 23, 2012

    Hi Jason,
    hi Rob,

    as far as I understand now with my poor English, the tongue-in-cheek caused a missunderstanding. Am I right?

    And both of you are fine with each other now again?

    Best to both of you
    Mecki

  5. Rob Youngren
    January 23, 2012

    Wow Jason, when you said you were going to write a blog post about our discussion thread I didn’t realize it was going to be “F U” type post. Congratulations I sincerely hope you feel really good about yourself now! WTF?

    For the record, I NEVER said you shouldn’t write a book. Why would I care about what somebody does or doesn’t do? All I said was the types of information you’d be consolidating and providing is most likely already out there on the web or as already been published. IF you were talking about a book of training tips or advice. But then you sort of back tracked from that angle (in our discussion) about how it was going to more of a book about your own experience. That I can get behind, since you have had a lot of experience your stories would be be good ones. A book full of your race reports with a seamless way to tie it all together has been done by lots of folks. It’s good reading typically.

    I also totally disagree about your “short cuts” angle and the tired drivel about how the rest of “normal” “everyday” folks have to deal with life, family, career, kids etc.. and don’t have time to train to do ultras. That is 100% bull! Besides the most elite guys who MIGHT have enough sponsorships to not have to work a real job, most of them have family, kids and careers to contend with AND they find the time to get the training and hard work in to succeed. You make the false assumption that all elites are these pampered professional runners that all they do is train 24-7 to race. That is simply untrue. They make it work through sheer sacrifice for the goal. Getting up hours before dawn to squeeze a long run in before the kids wake up, etc…

    No there are no shortcuts my friend if you want to MAXIMIZE your potential in the sport. Trying to convince folks to take short cuts is just going to end up hurting a lot of people in the long run. I totally agree that you can basically just show up, untrained and get through a lot of ultras just off of sheer guts and determination and a high pain threshold. A common adage is you can “fake a 50 but you can’t a 100″.

    So let’s summarize:

    1. You start a blog post asking folks to ask you questions about ultras because you’re thinking about writing a book to give people advice.

    2. I say something like 6 years of running ultras and you know everything? (Tongue in cheek my man! Tongue in cheek! Boy you’re sensitive! :) )

    3. You back off and say it’s a book about my experiences and trials and tribulations about how “normal everyday regular folks” can get into running ultras.

    4. I say that sounds good…

    5. And then this!

    So in closing, I say write you damn book and who cares what people think, least of all me. If your so sensitive that a simple tongue in cheek remark get’s you all riled up I suggest some serious introspection my friend.

    Adios!

  6. Barefoot Running University » Telling People They’re Not Good Enough
    January 23, 2012

    [...] I wrote a post about not allowing people to stand in the way of your dreams.  I strongly believe in this idea.  HOWEVER, does it mean we can do [...]

  7. Mark
    January 23, 2012

    When I wanted to do an Xterra, my family told me I wouldn’t be able to do it. I did it. I came last, but I did it.

    When I wanted to learn to play the guitar, my friends said I shouldn’t waste my money. I can now play several instruments at a very proficient level.

    When I wanted to learn to ride a unicycle, my housemates told me I was insane. I’m now on the brink of entering road races on it.

    When I wanted to start barefoot running, most runners I knew would glare me out. I’ve never been happier.

  8. Sam
    January 22, 2012

    I wasn’t a runner at all then decided to run a marathon. I gave myself 5 months to go from no mileage to be able to do a marathon. A lot of people thought I was crazy, should wait a few years, do a few halfs first. If I had listened to them I wouldn’t of stuck with running in the same way. Now I’m a personal trainer and helping others to learn and enjoy running.

    I’m certainly not the fastest but the way I see it everyone has advice to share and theres no point keeping it to yourself, share it then we can all improve.

  9. Allison Stewart
    January 22, 2012

    I wanted my first marathon to be THE marathon, in Greece from Marathon to Athens. One of my friends was thinking about but changed his mind after seeing how hilly the course was. He did his best to convince me that I shouldn’t pick that as my first marathon and to come and do Vegas instead since a lot of our mutual running friends were doing that as their first marathon. He said I should pick an easier course for my first marathon and that if I was going to go all that way I should go when I could do it well. Long story I went anyway, ran it in 4:31 and had an incredible time. Vegas was a nightmare from what everyone told me and definitely not what I would have wanted as my marathon “deflowering”. Glad I stuck to my guns on that one!

    • Allison Stewart
      January 22, 2012

      OH and as an added bonus, while I might one of the slowest runners in our group, I’m the ONLY one with a medal from Athens!!!!

  10. Ken Bob Saxton
    January 22, 2012

    I think there’s a reason I was named “Ken” because my parents believe I “ken” do anything I want… but it is certainly up to each of us as individuals to actually “DO” it. But, as I sit here wasting time on the internet, there are also times to NOT do, just to relax, which I believe can make the times of “doing” more productive.

    Don’t “just” do it, Have fun,
    -Barefoot Ken Bob

  11. Henrik Bærrføtt
    January 22, 2012

    I’d love to read a ultra marathon book by a back of the pack runner. So … one copy sold to Norway already.

  12. Adrian
    January 22, 2012

    Jason,

    Well, you certainly have the self-effacing thing down pat!

    So if I understand things, a published author (you) decided to write another book about ultramarathons, a subject you have personal experience in. So far so good. Then an experienced competitor said he wasn’t going to buy your book. Well duh, he wasn’t your target audience anyway. Still good. But somehow because he wasn’t interested in your book, he thinks you shouldn’t write it? That sounds silly.

    If you look at successful non-fiction authors, they often have very limited experience in their subject, sometimes learning while they write. Junger wasn’t a sailor but wrote “A Perfect Storm”, Krakauer did little mountaineering and camping yet wrote “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air”. Even within running, McDougall was hardly an expert in running, body mechanics or barefoot yet “Born to Run” was a fun, successful book. As I see it, you have a lot more experience and knowledge about the ultra community than any of these writers.

    There is one thing that they did very well and which you _can_ learn from: they researched the hell out of their books rather than relying on their own experience. If you re-read these books you’ll see how well they integrate narrative techniques in with research, new ideas, interviews and first-hand accounts. You could do worse than by picking a few books like this and trying to emulate them.

    In the end, you’ve proved that you can write a book. There are millions of unpublished writers who can do that, it’s a big job but not rare. What is impressive is that you published and earned money on your book – that is a big deal! I wish you the best of luck and hope you can build upon that success. And of course not everyone will like it or want it, any book about ultramarathons is bound to be a little niche.

  13. Tim
    January 22, 2012

    I always wanted to teach; when I finally got around to getting my undergrad, EVERYONE told me I couldn’t (admissions advisor, friends&family, etc) because of time, mortgage payments, etc. So I listened and didn’t. Hated my working life for @8 years. The more I observed the education system, the more i regretted not pursuing, as I want to be a change agent within the system. Again, everyone said “it’s too late, you’re *gaasp* 37 already and have a family! You can’t quit your job.”

    Everyone except my wife, anyway. So I did. I quit my job almost two years ago. Suffered financially like a bastard and put my material life on hold; but, in a few more months I’ll have that cert and be able to begin teaching.

    Now, I’m getting the “you can’t change the system; blah this blah that test scores blahblahblah” from professors and advisers. I say fcuk that. It takes one voice to start a movement, right? Middle and High school teachers will not be amused by the fifth graders I will be grooming as thinkers rather than regurgitators.

    • Jason
      January 22, 2012

      Tim- my best advice as a person that tried to change the system from the inside for 12 years:

      1. Always focus on making a difference on the kids in your class. Going beyond that will be met with fierce resistance from everywhere.

      2. Understand that your superiors will always act to protect their jobs over backing you. It’s the nature of the beast.

      3. Find like-minded people that are actually changing the system. Everyone SAYS they’re trying, but few actually do. Hint- look for the people that rock the boat often. The “troublemakers” get that title for a reason. ;-)

      Good luck, man!

      • Tim
        January 22, 2012

        I hear you Jason.
        1.The kids I face each day are the most important piece of the change puzzle (teach them TO think, not what or how to think). I figure if I do it right, the result will inspire questions from others without me having to evangelize my stance(kinda like barefoot running shoes,lol).
        2. Just like any other job (many years of the corporate cutthroat game behind me).
        3. Born troublemaker here. I find we tend to attract one another.

        Thanks for the wisdom. And on topic of the book, I much prefer to read “non-expert” experiences of things like racing, training, etc. The polished, professional approach makes it feel unattainable, which I feel is your point for doing the book anyway. I always tell folks to laugh at my mistakes, then try to do better!

  14. Eli
    January 22, 2012

    I was told (Basically) that if a 14 year old runs past 20 miles he will get injured and if a 14 year old runs barefoot he will stab himself. -Thats stupid because you can die or get hurt doing anything and I had already stabbed myself (By accident- trying to open a bicycle pump)
    -you have to do what you love!

  15. Trish Reeves
    January 22, 2012

    When I was a kid two people told me no. My dad told me I was too fat to be a cheerleader. And an older student told me I couldn’t be an artist because someone else in my class was better than me. Well, in high school I tried out for cheering, made the squad and eventually became captain in my senior year. And in college I majored in graphic design, got a job and 4 years later became an Art Director. By the way, that girl who was better than me at art? She’s working at a clothing store in the mall.

    Even still, I have that complex, that voice telling me I can’t do something difficult. I said I couldn’t run 10 miles. I did. I said I couldn’t complete a half marathon. I did. I said I couldn’t write a blog that was good enough for readership. Well guess what? I did. I should know better by now: if I really want something, I get it.

    • Brian G
      January 22, 2012

      Great stories.

      Innate skills give folks a leg up over others, but never, ever underestimate the power of the human will.

  16. briderdt (David)
    January 22, 2012

    And sometimes our parents can be the WORST at dashing dreams. In an effort to help us avoid disappointment, they deter us from trying.

    Some wise people have told me that there are three groups of people in our lives — those who hurt you, those who help you, and those who really don’t do much at all. Spend as little time as possible with the first and third group, and as much as possible with the second.

    • briderdt (David)
      January 22, 2012

      So in light of that, a comment to Rob — which group do you want to be in?

      • Rob Youngren
        January 23, 2012

        If any of you actually knew me (which none of you do) you’d know I’m firmly in camp number 2. What started as a tongue in cheek remark about Jason’s relative inexperience turned into a big “poop” storm. You’ll notice, if anybody bothered to read my comments and Jason’s exchange. That I NEVER said he shouldn’t write a book.

  17. Erik
    January 22, 2012

    The outsider’s perspective is always valuable, and oftentimes the most apposite. In cultural matters, the foreigner may have the most insight into the native’s practices. In teaching, the kid who struggled in math may be best able to explain a formula to others. In sports, the mediocre athlete may become an outstanding coach and tactician. And, unfortunately, in politics, the most amoral dumbasses can become president of the most powerful nation on earth!

  18. Brian G
    January 22, 2012

    Jason, you asked for “one dream you’ve had, but someone has acted as a gatekeeper by telling you it can’t be done”. I generally don’t ever tell anyone my dreams until after I’ve reached them. Why? Because I couldn’t care less about what these “experts” say I can and can’t do. I’ll figure that out on my own along the way, thank you very much.

    I really like the idea of an “ultra guide for the rest of us.” A guide not to give advice on how to win or even do well, but rather a guide on how to just be able to finish the damn thing with the minimum amount of prep work required.

    • Brian G
      January 22, 2012

      That is, I like the idea if that’s the intent of your book. If not, I’ll pass. :)

  19. Vanessa
    January 22, 2012

    When I started running, I was told that I’d never be a good runner because I didn’t have a “runner’s body” … Fuck that. My body is fucking awesome so I run ultras.

  20. Andy
    January 22, 2012

    I’ve always been a big fan of “fake it until you make it” No one’s an expert when they first start claiming it, and no one has the luxury of stopping the learning process!

  21. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    January 22, 2012

    The best way to become qualified at something is to do it. That’s how you learn. By the time you’re done writing the book you’ll know more about ultras than a lot of veteran runners.

  22. edh
    January 22, 2012

    I’ve been told I cannot run an ultra, so that has just added to my resolve to do so.

    I liked this post. It could be summed up in 3 words:

    “up yours Rob!”

    • Rob Youngren
      January 23, 2012

      Ah, if only Jason really knew me I doubt he’d be saying that.