Friday, January 11, 2013

Running within yourself

I learned in college that some people are just better than me, across every observable dimension. PB was a rowing teammate. He and I were two of the better runners on the heavyweight crew. (That is not necessarily a good thing. Heavyweight rowers can not afford the luxury of having runners' builds.) PB was a better runner than me. He was also a better rower than me. And he was a better student than me. Frankly, he was a nicer guy than me.

I may have forgotten this story. I fell into a semi-habit of seeing a better athlete and say "but what's (s)he do for work" or a better professor and say "but how is (s)he as an athlete."

Then today I learned of a leading figure in the antitrust academy and enforcement ranks who is not just a brilliant and productive thinker, he has (fairly) recently run a marathon mere seconds over the coveted 3:00 mark. My immediate reaction was to think I need to change up my training strategy. Or maybe I need to hang everything and write more and better.

Or there's the alternative of "running within myself." Like when I show up at a race and spot the runners who will beat me no matter what I do, or show up at a conference populated by the leading thinkers. All things equal I like the world better with those people in it, so the better strategy is to appreciate and not to compete.


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  2. I think the competition v. isolation dichotomy is false both for running and for scholarship.

    We run races to compete with ourselves, but we do it as a group. A few weeks ago, you referred to us all as "mid-packers." A good marathon for me is 40 minutes slower than a good marathon for you, but running a race is somehow different from running alone. We all run our own race, but we motivate each other. Scholarship is the same way. We do our own work, but we do it as part of a scholarly community.

    I think Philip demonstrated this nicely in Dublin. He started the race running with mid-packer Spencer, caught up with mid-packer Ted somewhere around mile 18. Left me wheezing up a hill at mile 19, and never quite caught up with mid-packer Max. He ran his own race, but managed to do it with all of us. :-)

  3. That hill at mile 19 was brutal!

    A very thoughtful response. We do our individual best and draw on crowd support to facilitate it. This must be because neither of our examples (running or writing) are zero sum in the relevant range. We will all be better off if we all do better.

    Do we never compete, then? Is there never a legitimate use of "I'm the best at" or "I'm top 10 in my age group" or "I'm one of the top 10 SSRN downloads in [my particular SSRN niche]" (ignoring the problem of bragging any such statement entails). Is the competitive aspect of life or work necessarily illegitimate?

    Maybe you only get to compete when something is reduced to zero sum. Only one person gets the plaque for top age grouper, only one person gets the Substantial Justice Chair in Law at X University, and only one person gets the final article spot in the Top Ten Law Review. If you show up at a race as one of two in your age group, unless you learn otherwise in the first mile, you may well be competing to beat the other gal/guy. If you find yourself in the final round of review at Top Ten L.Rev. you may well be trying to convince the editors that your field is more important than the cutting edge law of basket weaving article the other prof wrote.

  4. This conversation encapsulates everything I thrive for, competitiveness as striving for the best in all of us; but cooperative socially.