If someone falls short of their target – don’t make it about yourself

Summary: Empathy instead of subconsciously putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and “consoling” them by applying your perspective to their goals.


I was so close to doing it. I read my buddy Tri Szerpa’s (triszerpa.pl) post about his ultra marathon in the Pyrenees – 110 km and 6.8 km positive gain – in which he wasn’t very complimentary of himself. That’s actually not entirely true – he was being very harsh about his performance during the race and the whole season, bashing himself for not learning from his mistakes, generally going down the rabbit hole of self-criticism. And my fingers had already started typing “dude, really? you’ve just run 110 km, that’s insane, you should be so proud of yourself!”. I realised what I had almost done and immediately deleted the drafted comment.

Remember the post about my mistakes from the Great North Run ? I really wasn’t satisfied with that race. Sure, I did beat my previous PB by almost two and a half minutes. But that was not my goal for that race and the goal eluded me because of silly errors I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t spiral down into pondering on those mistakes, just decided to learn from them, never repeat them and move on. The point here, though, is that my post about how unhappy I was with my GNR result attracted a specific type of comment – namely one similar to the described above that I in the end decided not to post. Something along the lines of “Hey, are you crazy? Are you not getting carried away here a little bit?”

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That’s me getting “carried away” by not being satisfied with my result

What do these both posts have in common? On the face of it, they seem encouraging, consoling, trying to show us the other side of the coin and tell us that nothing bad really happened. But the real message – even though in most cases subconscious – that they are conveying is if I were you, I would be happy with this result.

Simple, right? And probably harmless. But at the same time they indicate an opportunity to work on someone’s emotional intelligence and empathy. Because the last thing that someone who has just fallen short of their target (sport-related, business-related, any target, really) wants to hear is that you would be satisfied if you were in his / her shoes. All that hard work, energy, sweat, clean eating, devotion, sacrifices, pain, lack of sleep, cramps, stitches etc. that went into getting to that desired goal – blown! That’s what we feel at the finish line if we didn’t achieve what we strived for, even if it was a goal that is beyond the “standard” or “everyday” aspirations of others. By essentially saying “stop moaning and be happy” you’re ignoring the whole emotional load connected to falling short of the target so dramatically fought for and making that situation about yourself.

Therefore my suggestion is following: the next time you scroll through Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Whatever and you see someone’s post about their recent failure – write a comment and pause before you click “post”. Look at your comment and assess it:

a) Am I acknowledging that the other person’s definition of “failure” is different to mine?
b) Am I looking at their situation through their eyes or am I putting myself in their shoes and thinking about it from my current perspective?
c) What do I want to achieve with my comment? Do I want to show that I care, that everything’s going to be ok and that they’ll get it next time? Or do I want to essentially tell the other person something about myself and my approach to life?
d) Do I understand that someone’s goals might differ from mine, both in type and scale?
e) Am I trying to give advice, even though no one asked for it and even though the pretty much only acceptable comment now is “this sucks, I’m with you, all is going to be good, I believe in you”?

After the assessment decide, whether you want to post the comment or not. Obviously this is only my suggestion and therefore feel free to ignore it. Just don’t be surprised if your hard-training (or hard-working! this post doesn’t only apply to sport-related contexts) friends won’t even know how to respond to your comment.

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