Self-pity: The Easy Way Out


It is human nature to feel sorry for oneself when things are not going the right way. The dictionary defines “self-pity” as “a self-indulgent attitude or state of mind of an individual in a perceived adverse situation who has not accepted the situation and does not have the confidence or ability to cope with it. The person believes they are a victim and deserve to feel sorry for themselves.”

I believe self-pity is a main reason why most people never achieve their fitness or weight-loss goals. All the energy we waste feeling bad prevents us from achieving any goal we set for ourselves. Self-pity rids us of enthusiasm and potential action.

I believe we all exist to make a contribution to others in some way. What that contribution is you will have to ask yourself. In order to make that contribution, vibrancy, energy and desire must exist. These characteristics are easy to have when things are going great but when they are not can that contribution still be met? If you step on a scale and the number did not go down even after weeks of hard work and clean eating, will that affect your contribution to your family? Will your children still see a happy parent? Will your attitude towards others still be pleasant? Can you carry on with your day or will you just feel sorry for yourself and drown your sorrows with a pail of ice cream watching television on the couch?

The person who gives up yields to self-pity. They feel that they have made their best effort and the results did not come so why try any further. This is the critical point. The decision you make here will determine whether you achieve greatness in life or wallow in mediocrity or failure forever.

I have felt self-pity multiple times in my life. The last time was in a bike race I competed in. The race is called the Bow 80. It is an 80 km mountain bike race over two mountain passes. In good conditions the winner usually does it in just under four and a half-hours. I was hoping to finish in less than six hours.

The race allows 200 riders to compete. Some years, depending on the weather, half the riders do not even finish. In the year I entered the race it rained for a week straight prior. In the last 20 km of the course there was so much mud you could not ride through it. You had to get off your bike and try to walk through carrying your bike. In some sections my bike shoes were sucked off. I had to walk through in my socks, drop my bike off, walk back and get my shoes out of the mud. This was repeated over and over again.

Before the mud section in the first two hours of the race, I paced myself a bit too hard and the legs were feeling it even before the first major climb. When I started the 45-minute ascent of the first mountain I was going so slow I could have walked my bike up faster.

Just as I was about to crest the first climb, disaster struck. My rear gear cable snapped. I only had one gear that I could now use on my bike. It was a gear that I could only use on flat ground or going downhill. I still had another 45-minute climb ahead of me and the rest of the course was rolling terrain.

I pushed my bike to the top of the second climb. It took me forever. I was light-headed from the elevation and hungry. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I would have a nice long descent where I could rest my legs and my mechanical problem would not be an issue. In the first 20 m of the descent I saw a sign that had three black arrows pointing downwards. I should have realized immediately that this meant very steep and dangerous.

Before I had a chance to get off my bike I hit a rock and over the handlebars I went, crashing on the trail on my head and left shoulder. I hit so hard that I wasn’t sure if I broke my collarbone. I laid on the trail not moving for about a minute. I was afraid that some bone in my body was broken and if I moved I would be in excruciating pain. I slowly picked myself up and started to put some weight on my legs. I hurt everywhere but nothing was broken.

The rest of the descent, I was so scared to crash again that I was on the brakes hard. My hands and forearms were exhausted from squeezing the brakes so aggressively. I managed to get down the mountain and to the second and last major checkpoint in the race. I have been riding on the course for about five hours now. In my mind I thought maybe there was 10–15 km left in the race.

When I asked the checkpoint marshal how much distance there was left he said 30 km or so. When I heard this I felt sick. I really wanted to quit and this would be my last chance to get off the course and get driven back to the end of the race. I was wet, tired, and hungry, my bike was broken and I hurt everywhere.

I am not 100% sure why I decided to keep going. I think it was pride or avoiding humiliation. I thought about going to work on Monday and everyone asking me how my race went. I was bragging the last month about how I was going to finish under 6 hours. I did not want to tell people that I quit the race. In all the races I have ever been in I have always finished. I did not want to feel the shame the rest of my life.

This race is where I made up my motto “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.” I thought, “Why not hurt for 30 more kilometres? It’s better than having to live with quitting the rest of my life.”

The last third of the race was agonizing. I had to walk my bike up every little incline. I prayed for any downhill section where I could coast. When I got to the mud I was done. For 20 km, my routine was get off my bike, carry it through the mud, set the bike down, go back and get my bike shoes, scrape the mud off the shoes so I could put them on again, get on the bike… Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I almost came to tears a few times. I felt so sorry for myself. I thought I would never cross the finish line. I had not seen another rider for hours. I was alone somewhere in the wilderness and not even sure if I was still on the course. According to my watch the race started eight hours ago.

I wanted to quit so badly, but that option ended when I left the last checkpoint. I had no choice but to finish. I could have taken the easy way out three hours ago but didn’t. I started talking to myself aloud about how stupid I was, how much of a loser I was. I could have gotten a ride out but no I decided to finish a race on a broken bike.

At that moment without explanation something some thing went SNAP in my mind. I became angry with myself for feeling so low. I said to myself “You don’t deserve to feel sorry for yourself! So what if your legs hurt and you are exhausted? You think this is the most tired a human being has been on this planet? Stop being such a pussy.”

After that I didn’t care anymore about what happened to my body. In fact, on some of the hills I tried to run up them pushing my bike just to cause more pain to myself as punishment for my self-pity. In a sense I became a bit wild.

In my head I was trying to calculate my walking pace and approximate distance left in the race. I thought there might be a chance that it would get dark and I could no longer see where I was going. What would I do? Would the race organizers come looking for me? Would I have to sleep somewhere on the trail with my bike? Would I freeze to death overnight? It’s funny how you always think of the worst possible scenario when you feel sorry for yourself.

I kept pushing my bike up the hills, riding any flat surface and praying for a downhill. I was so tired. I was annoyed and frustrated about getting on and off my bike over and over again. I must have done it a hundred times. I thought I was hearing things. It sounded like music in the distance. I was not sure but it did sound like music playing. I kept going and sure enough it got louder and louder.

I thought I would be happy and relieved when I crossed the finish line but when I arrived I felt embarrassment. There were other riders sitting around eating, relaxing and chatting about the race. All I remember was them watching me cross the line so late. They must have thought who is this guy, and did he stop and have a sleep in the middle of the race? Today I am proud that I finished the race but at the time I felt nothing but self-pity and humiliation. I finished the race in eight hours and 21 minutes. I am going back this September 20th to break six hours.

For me, self-pity allows you to make excuses and justify in your mind a reason to fail. You will go to great lengths to find reasons not to succeed. Words that are associated with self-pity are defeat, anxiety, despair, and hopelessness. What you need to do is combat these words with other words like, “I can, I will, I am worth the effort.”

You cannot worry about the past. The past is done. Learn from your failures and deal with what is happening in the present. What you do now decides and shapes your future.

I believe everyone has it with in them to be strong. Fear is what stops us from achieving our goals. Fear that it is too hard, fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success. Conquer your fear and you will conquer your goals. Remove self-pity and you will rid yourself of depression.

There is a great quote from the writer D.H. Lawrence” “I’ve never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A bird will have fallen frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Maybe this is the time for you to get wild too.