Tagged: selfishness

The Selfishness of Our Obsessions

 Most of us who run, bike, swim, or engage in other sports probably don’t consider our chosen activity to be an obsession. Those on the outside, however, may think differently about how we choose to spend our free time.

I run. My friends and I mostly run either before or after the sun comes up or goes down. We run in all kinds of weather and temperatures. Sometimes we run when we shouldn’t, namely when we’re sick or injured, and our days are pretty much built around our training schedules. We read books and magazines about running, write running blogs, talk, text, and keep up with Facebook pages about running, and some of us spend more money on running clothes and accessories than on anything else.

And we run half marathons, marathons, and ultra marathons. For fun.

You decide if it’s an obsession or not. Whatever you decide won’t change a thing for most, if any, of us. We love running, and it makes our lives better.

But how does it affect our loved ones and our non-running lives?

A few weekends ago Michael and I went to our friends’ house to watch a documentary called Ride the Divide. The documentary is about a 2745 mile long endurance bike race along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico and captures the difficulty, hardship, and loneliness of a race that takes six to ten weeks to complete.

At one point, Matthew, the leader of the race, questions what he is doing (he’s already won the race the previous four years), especially in light of the fact that his wife is having a baby in the next three weeks.

Carol, one of our hosts for the evening, made the comment that she thought that was “so selfish” of him to be spending so much time away on a race when his wife was about to have a baby. Another friend, Darrell, agreed. I stayed quiet.

I wasn’t quiet because I disagreed with her. I remained silent because I had said the same thing several years ago about someone else.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. The title pretty much says it all. For me the most gut wrenching part of the book is when one of the stranded climbers is able to talk to his pregnant wife via satellite phone. It’s the last conversation they will ever have, and they both know it. Through my tears I thought to myself, “What a selfish thing for him to do, climb Mt Everest when his wife is going to have a baby.”

Years later I read that his wife was also a climber, and they had previously climbed Everest together. She knew full well the risks involved in marrying a climber and I doubt that she saw his climbing as “selfish.” The wife of another climber who died that day said, “I would feel cheated if Scott had been killed in a car crash. He deserved to die on Mount Everest.” (full article here)


I suspect it is the same for the wife of Matthew, five time winner of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race, and most other wives–and husbands–of athletes who have a passion/obsession for what they do.

But what about the rest of us? Most of us aren’t spending weeks away from our families doing what we love, but the hours we spend putting in the training miles, along with the occasional weekend destination races, do take their toll. My friend Liz, mother of two teenagers, once made the comment during one of our Saturday morning long runs that she felt selfish for running so much because it took time away from her children and husband.

I was surprised by her saying that, especially since her husband is also a runner. My own two children were already in college when I took up running, so it was never something I had to grapple with. I wondered if I would have felt that same way if they were still home.

Is it really fair to call something selfish if you love it so much, and see the value it brings to your life? Would our marriages and family lives really be better if we didn’t do something we loved, if we gave them all our time and didn’t keep some of it for ourselves? How much is too much? Do the rules change when we have children?

When does it go from doing something that makes you happy to doing something that makes you selfish?

Personally, I think it’s something that has to be discussed and  decided upon between each person involved. Asking someone to give up something they love doing because it may be dangerous, or takes too much time away from the family, may be asking too much. Like most things in a relationship, each person has to be true to themselves, and some negotiation and compromise has to take place.

Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. But if one person’s bliss is another person’s agony, and our endeavors are seen as selfish and obsessive by the ones we love, it could be a high price to pay for happiness.