“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.” ~Shannon L. Alder
A few years ago I was working with one of my Chinese international students. This student (I’ll call him J) was one of the most dynamic, kind, funny and hard working students I have ever had. He’s the type of student you instantly know you’ll always remember.
One day he came to visit during my office hours. As a freshman he was still adjusting to life in the United States. Since English is his second language, his work took a while to complete and he worried about doing the best he could, even though he was doing remarkably well.
Like I said, a joy of a student.
At one point he confided that he thought he wasn’t any good in English. This was far from the truth, but in that moment, it was his truth.
He mentioned another student in our class. He told me, “I look at the work he’s doing and I get so frustrated. Why can’t I be as good as him?”
I put the brakes on the conversation real fast.
Instead of letting him go on and on, I took a piece of paper from my desk and wrote down one of my favorite quotes:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
I handed it to him. He read it, thought about it for several seconds and then looked at me and nodded to show he understood exactly why I wanted him to have that paper.
I then went on to explain there was no point in comparing his work with someone else’s, especially since the student he was referring to was a junior!
I asked him to think about what it would be like if he looked to the student and instead of feeling desperation, he felt inspiration.
Despair would make him want to give up. Inspiration would make him want to do the work in the hopes that he too could get to that level by the time he was a junior.
“His success should show you it’s possible. His success is a mirror of where you can be in two years if you work hard enough.”
His face lit up. He sat up in the chair and said, “Yes, I can do that!”
That was years ago. J has gone on to do amazing things—like road trip across the country staying with strangers along the way. (Like I said, he’s pretty dynamic and his English is really good!) He’s also taken scuba diving lessons in English and become a mentor to other international students.
I haven’t heard from him in a while, but I think of him often.
It can be so easy to fall into frustration when we see all the fabulous things people are doing and accomplishing and we begin to compare their journey to our own journey.
“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” ~Unknown
It’s especially easy to do in this age of constant connectivity. All we need is to scroll through our news feed and we are instantly swept into family, friends and strangers’ lives. One minute turns to twenty or forty because it’s easy to get lost in what everyone else is doing, saying, accomplishing and where everyone else if going.
But when we focus on what everyone else is doing, we are not concentrating on what we are doing or could be doing.
When we focus on other people’s successes, we leave no time to work on ourselves, our dreams, our goals and our ideas.
We leave no time to receive the inspiration, motivation and excitement waiting for us.
And when we see how everyone else’s journey looks like, we begin to think ours should look like that too.
But when we get so fixated on how we think it should look like for us, we leave no room for magic and miracles.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course there is nothing wrong with seeing what others are doing. We all need connection and we can use these connections for keeping up-to-date in our loved ones’ lives, and for networking, learning, and socializing with like-minded souls—all amazing things!
But where we go wrong is when we don’t realize we’ve crossed the border from inspiration to desperation, from motivation to depletion, and from fired up to burned out.
I love hearing, seeing and celebrating success stories, but every so often when I’m having a frustrating-low-motivation-kinda-day, I have to hit pause and remind myself that my path is not going to look exactly like anyone else’s. It’s not supposed to.
And I’m betting your path will look like your path and no one else’s. The only way you’ll know if you are on the right track is if you know when to deliberately tune out everyone else’s picture perfect successes and start focusing on your own.
Tune into what feels right for you and you will never get lost. (Tweet that!)
Now and then my former student comes to mind. And when he does, I try to take my own advice and simply root myself in the here and now. I let myself take a moment to be excited by what I’ve accomplished so far and what’s next on my horizon. I remind myself that the future is as bright as I want it to be.
And when I am feeling a little low, wondering if I’ll be able to make my dreams a reality, I hear J’s words ring out to me:
“Yes, I can do that!”
And just like that, I’m on track again.