Yesterday afternoon I cheered on my son at his one and only track meet of 2021. He is in 8th grade and excited to be running outside with his friends on a beautiful day - albeit a little brisk. What can you do? It's early May in northeast Wisconsin - "wear a jacket and gloves" is standard advice for all outdoor events.
The last event at his meet was the 4 x 100 meter relay. If you don't know Track & Field lingo, that means there are four runners per team and they each run 100 meters. A regulation outdoor track is 400 meters so this race is all over in one lap. Each runner is assigned to a lane. In order to account for the fact that the runner assigned to the far outside lane actually runs a longer distance than the runner assigned to the inside lane, the start line for each runner is staggered to ensure they each run exactly 100 meters. It's exciting to watch - surely even more exciting to participate in (not that I would know - I was always a distance girl.)
I leaned on the fence and listened in as the officials gave the runners instructions in the starting area. One phrase was repeated several times: "Stay in your lane." Sprint events in Track & Field, those that are 400 meters or less, require the runner to keep to their lane assignment for the entirety of the race and by doing so they are more likely to reach the finish line without issue or injury. When it comes to longer distances, 800 meters and up, they are allowed to move out of their lane to the 'inside track' so to speak.
I'm pleased to report all the kids managed to heed the rule - and, as a result, no teams were disqualified and no nasty collisions were posted to YouTube. The "stay in your lane" rule in certain events in Track & Field is important for reasons of safety and fairness.
As I walked to my car and headed home, I thought about what this rule can mean in the other races we are running - you know, LIFE.
Similar to the sprint events, when you are engaged in a shorter task or project at work, you might want to use the words "stay in your lane" as a sort of mantra to help you stay focused and not become distracted by the other exciting activities going on in your world around you. My own S.O.S. alarm goes off in my head all the time. If you aren't familiar, S.O.S. in this context stands for 'shiny object syndrome' - and by repeating the words "stay in your lane", I can make sure the task gets completed.
But there are a few areas where this rule might not be the most helpful:
- For those headed off to college with a declared major, the phrase "stay in your lane" might make you stick with a subject even if you don't really like it. Perhaps you didn't even choose that major for yourself, but it was "accidentally" chosen for you because somewhere along the line someone mentioned you were good at it.
- For those who get a job after high school in the same area where you grew up because that's what everyone in your family has always done, "stay in your lane" might keep you from exploring opportunities in a new city or state.
- For those who have been working for several years already, "stay in your lane" might keep you in a job you no longer find fulfilling. While you may not be in a position to give your two-week notice tomorrow, you can make time to explore other options and see if there might be something you would enjoy more.
I don't think too many people actually give the advice "stay in your lane" to others - I think most of us say it to ourselves. Because what we know and what is familiar feels safe, comfortable, perhaps even easy, and we think staying in our lane is the fastest way to what we consider to be the 'finish line'. If that sounds like something you've said to yourself, keep in mind the words of Amby Burfoot who said "Life is a marathon, not a sprint". And he would know as a Boston Marathon champion and former Executive Editor of Runner's World. If he had followed the "stay in your lane" rule, we would have never had the privilege of reading the many books he's authored like A Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life and First Ladies of Running.
One of his lessons is that real winners are not focused on simply crossing the finish line, but taking the time to learn about themselves along the way. And we'll never get there if the only rule we make sure to follow is "stay in your lane."