A Little Happier: Why I Don’t Have to Outrun the Bear

I love fables, paradoxes, koans, parables, all kinds of teaching stories. Recently, in a conversation, I invoked the punchline of one of my favorite teaching stories: The Story of the Bear and the Two Hikers. My daughter Eliza said, “I use that story all the time. It turns out to apply in so many situations.”

So in case you haven’t encountered this useful little teaching story, here’s my version:

Once upon a time, two hikers are traveling through the woods, when they see a mean-looking bear coming toward them. They start to run, and when one guy realizes that the laces of his boots are undone, he stops to re-tie them.

“What are you doing?” the other fellow yells over his shoulder. “You have to run! You have to outrun the bear!”

“No,” yells the faster guy, over his shoulder, as he speeds ahead. “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you!”

I asked Eliza about the context in which she’d invoked the story. “A friend was applying for a job,” she told me, “and he was worried about the fact that he wasn’t an absolutely perfect fit for it. And I said to him, ‘You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to be a little bit better than the other people applying for the position. You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to run a little faster than the person next to you.”

It’s surprising how often I find myself telling this funny little story. It’s funny because it’s true. Sometimes, it’s reassuring to remember that to get where we’re going, we don’t have to be perfect or outstanding, we just need to work a little harder than someone else.




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