What is life- a marathon or a rat race?

It would be good to have a metaphor for life, which would explain what is life, and the meaning of it. By the time you finish reading this post, you would know a beautiful metaphor that describes the meaning of life.

How do you explain life in simple terms?

A marathon is the finest metaphor for human life. Unfortunately, rat race seems to be the popular and the incorrect one.

I am quite excited about this piece. This is one of the most important lessons about human happiness and I am interesting in watching how it gets framed. Continue reading. By the time you finish this piece, I will try to convince you that competition between two human beings is frivolous, and impossible. We cannot compete with others on a physical or an intellectual level. We can only compete with our own selves.

Did you know that animals do not run marathons?

Only humans do.

For starters who have never heard what a marathon is, it is a long distance event where the objective is to finish the race. Mind it, the objective is to finish the race at your own pace, and not to beat others in time.   

Marathons explain what life is

How does a marathon work?

The distance is the same for everyone. A half marathon is about 21.1 kilometres and a full marathon is 42.2 kilometres. I have run about 10 half marathons and completed all. I have also run 2 full marathons and could not finish the second one because I had been working out in the gym and not running. So, I can proudly call myself a marathoner still. Hopefully, one day, I will also get to do an ultra-marathon, a triathlon, but that’s beside the point.

Animals don’t run marathons. They just run. In fact, a lot of animals can run faster than humans like dogs, horses, cheetahs of course but they don’t run long distances. They definitely do not organise marathons in the jungles to see who can run the longest.

The origins of the term rat race

Rat race as per dictionary is any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.

The essence of the rat race is any activity that takes a lot of effort to outcompete others to achieve an award which is not quite worth the effort. The rats run about for cheese under the assumption that there is limited cheese and they would only get it if they outperform the other.

The phrase originates from the rat cages where rats are given a circular path to run on. It is a race which leads the rat nowhere but is full of struggles and exhaustion. This phrase compares the human life and some of the struggles to be as pointless as that one. A person who can come out of it is considered a true winner.

There are tons of assumptions with the rat race which make no sense to human life.

Humans are way different than each other.

Nature is a brilliant engineer. It creates all of us to look differently and have different identities. Even identical twins do not have same fingerprints.

Unlike rodents, we cannot compete with each other.

We don’t compete with each other. It’s stupid, the whole idea of relative competition which has marred the entire human society. The schools, the colleges, offices are all created around the idea of relative competition.

Somebody comes first. Somebody comes second and so on. That’s fair but that’s not because people are competing with each other. The results vary because people are competing with each other at a different level.

Let me explain that. 

Humans cannot compete with each other

In a team that’s trying to achieve a particular goal, the guy that works the hardest contributes the most to the team and the guy who works the least or has the minimal level of skill doesn’t contribute as much. Obviously, the former will be rewarded more than the latter. Is the latter competing with the former for awards?

You may say yes because the entire society has been designed on the idea of relative competition. But, the answer is a capital NO. The guy who is performing the least may learn from the guy who is performing the most but the only way he can improve is by working on his level of skill and working hard at the same time. His performance doesn’t depend on the performance of his colleague.

If he begins to work harder than he has ever worked and sets standards which surpass everyone else’s standards on the team, he is likely to become the most significant member of the team.

This brings us to an extremely important point- we cannot compete with others, even in a race. Even if you are in a race where you are competing for an award with others, the guy who will win is the one who is the best prepared.

Let us take a corporate example.

Apple is not running with any other phone company. It is not competing with Samsung or Nokia or whatever. They have created standards that they stand for, and they follow those standards. They are running their own their own race within a seeming race.

Always apply marathon principles to life, because life is a marathon. It is NOT a race.

It is a great question to ask, what exactly are marathon principles? Let us see.

1. You are running your own race

A solo run
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Now, many people run in a marathon. In most cases, there are thousands who run in a marathon to cover a certain amount of distance. Are you competing with them? You are not. You are running your own race. How far you will go and how fast you go depends on how much you have trained for the marathon. That is it. There is nothing else to it. There is no way you will better the time or speed of a better prepared runner.

That’s life. You get what you prepared for. Nothing more and nothing less.

The great thing about training for a marathon is that all you need is a road and running shoes. Other efforts in life may need more infrastructure. But, the principle doesn’t change. In marathon and in life, you perform to the level of your training.

2. Learn from people who finish faster

The only thing that we can do about competition with respect to others is to learn from it. If you are inspired by someone who ran a great race, go and talk to them and ask about their effort. Ask them how they prepared, what did they do, how much did they run every day before the marathon.

They would be happy to tell. Usually, people like to talk about how they won.

3. Help people who have fallen to their feet

Lend a helping hand
Photo by Riccardo Bresciani on Pexels.com

Marathons are hard. They are really hard, like life. I finished all the half marathons I ran with worthy timings. However, of the two full marathons I ran, I cracked in the second one because I wasn’t prepared. I finished about 28 kilometres and cracked. My feet wouldn’t move anymore. In the first full marathon that I finished, I made it quite slowly beyond 30 kilometres till the end of 42 kilometres. Along the way, many runners gave up. I helped a few get up and each kept saying to each other to get up and keep going.   

That’s what we need to do in life as well. We need to help those who have fallen behind and tell them to believe in themselves.

4. You just can’t keep up with those running ahead of you or those who have fallen behind

Even when it appears, you cannot compete with others. We can only compete to the level of our own preparedness. People will get ahead of you. People will fall behind. There is nothing you can do about that. You cannot work on them. You can only work on yourself.

That leaves you with you. You run along feeling the pain in your legs and keep telling yourself that you will finish. It is all about finishing and not stopping till you do.

That’s what marathons are about. That’s what life is about. A marathon is the finest metaphor for life. No matter what situation you are in, always remind yourself that you cannot compete with others, and you are competing with yourself. I don’t know if that makes life any easier but it does bring a better perspective.

Drop out of the rat race and run your own marathon.

Thank you for reading.

The purpose of this blog to help you find your happiness. Please read the other posts on the blog, and follow so that you get updates when new posts are published. Please share any posts you like with your friends so that they can also find their happiness. If you have any feedback for me, please leave it in the comments and I would be happy to work on it. If you would like to support my writing and this blog, you may please send a donation through PayPal here.

You may also like reading some more perspectives on happiness:

Ways to be happy at work.

Ways to deal with hard times.

I appreciate the time you spent in reading the blog and wish you happiness.



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