Comparing yourself to others stunts your growth

19 Feb

photo: Kingston Images

There’s this saying: When you compare your insides to other people’s outsides, you lose every time.

Who loves to do that? Pick me! Pick me!

The problem is comparison leaves you struggling to stay afloat in a sea you never wanted to dive into in the first place. Instead of learning to swim, you keep hugging the side of the floaty or sinking like lead.

While I’m excellent at faking confidence when needed, lying beneath the surface lurks a tiny inferiority complex. Deep in my mind, people are smarter than me, funnier than me, more creative than me . . . more interesting than me. Mostly I’m bad at admitting this. That’s why blogging was so scary in the beginning.

Hello, honesty, it’s crowded in here. Can we go somewhere we can be alone?

Facebook is easy for snipets of wit. If I were on Twitter, concisely twitty I’d be.

But blogs are personal. You have to be authentic or you’re boring. And even then, you might still be boring (anyone still awake?).

Since introspection is my frenemy, perhaps you can learn something from my inadequacies qualifications:

Your idea of adventure is cooking with vanilla bean. You see a few photo albums on Facebook of your friend’s trip to India/Eygpt/Peru/Bali. Then you read a few blog posts about sailing/mountain climbing/backpacking, and suddenly your fancy dessert or spontaneous jaunt through the woods doesn’t seem so adventurous. You start to feel ordinary. Less seizing, more day.

It’s easy to get intimidated by people who seem to have adventure in their back pocket. One of my husband’s oldest friends climbs mountains and takes breathtaking photos of the world (and less glamorously, our wedding). Aaron’s cousin travels the globe to interview pirates and scribes. My childhood friend traveled frequently in his 20’s and lived abroad. I thought of him today while I listened to a news story about Tunisia because he’s been there too. He was one of the first people I thought of when I needed a travel mate to Spain. On that trip he told me a crazy story about climbing an icy mountain in Italy, flirting with life and death.

I remember in exaggeration so the ice might be imaginary. And the near death part. But my reaction I remember clearly: I never want to do something like that. Danger is not my middle name. But then again, neither is caution.

I love Spain and seeing new places, but I’ve learned I’m meant for small pockets of world travel at a time. My friend, who later ventured to Turkey to study its political geography, always had his passport up-to-date. Now he’s a stay-at-home dad who blogs about PhD parenthood. He has different kinds of adventures now. Perhaps less predictable ones.

This timely moment of happiness arrived in my inbox this morning:

“Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.” —La Rochefoucauld

Ask yourself whether you actually want to climb/sail the world or if just feel like it’ll make you more interesting at parties. I’m definitely in the latter category. Climbers and globe trekkers are pursuing what they love. We don’t all love the same things. It’s okay.

Happy people are boring? Penelope Trunk has a test you can use to decide if your life is interesting or happy. She believes you value one over the other. She has given up on happiness and everything she writes is interesting so perhaps that makes the case.  When we’re happy, do we avoid potentially interesting experiences as to not risk our happiness? Or do we sacrifice happiness for interesting experiences?  Some might argue there’s a vapid nature to being concerned so much with happiness. I will argue that the pursuit of happiness makes me interesting. Okay, maybe not. But it does make Gretchen Rubin a ton of money. She has a #1 bestseller, after all. I read her blog regularly but it did take me some time to get past the constant self-promotion. I realize this is the point of most blogs. Except mine. My lack of accomplishments is your gain!

Penelope and Gretchen are complete opposites but they are both excellent at growth. Precisely because they know who they are, and they know who they aren’t. They don’t compare. Penelope wants to be interested; Gretchen wants to be happy. I am the greedy person who wants both.

Gretchen often points out that things that are fun for one person are not for someone else. She loves organizing closets while that makes me want to drive nails in my forearm. Or sit on the couch and eat the internet.

Both women are honest: they admit their faults and embrace their strengths. Penelope is sometimes shocking while Gretchen is more subtle but I can relate to both of them in different ways. And they value being nice. Cynicism and criticism don’t inspire. They do.

Interesting projects are worth the work. When I was a yearbook adviser, there were times I wanted to pull my hair out, fire all my students, and stop running a 300+ page publication. Editing copy, tweaking designs, ensuring that each book’s voice remained intact from the typography and graphics to the story ideas and secondary coverage:  those details make you crazy. But the difference between good and great is all details. So each year when I saw my staff surpass the previous year’s book in vision and execution, I knew it was worth it. To see my kids surprise themselves (and everyone else): labor of love.

Then when I moved to Florida and started to worry about not having a job and planning a family, I amped up my research and reading on freelance writer as a potential new job. I love to write but I hate to promote myself. Therefore, freelance writing would require hours and hours of doing things I hate so that I can get writing gigs on mostly boring topics. Because the jobs that are the easiest to get and the most lucrative are the ones no one wants. Technology manuals, anyone? I’d rather organize my closet!

So after a few months of comparing myself to the branding freelance masters of the internet, I realized something important. I don’t want to be them. What they do won’t make me happy. I like teaching and despite its frustrations, it’s a much more interesting and rewarding career than the isolation (or forced promotion) of the freelance writing marketplace. I’m going to stick with education until the day I get a magical opportunity to write about things I’m interested in. Like I do on this blog. So until then, I guess I’m giving the milk away for free.

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5 Responses to “Comparing yourself to others stunts your growth”

  1. EE February 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Ok, I can’t tell you if you are happy — only you know that one. But I can say without doubt that you are interesting! I get excited whenever I see New Blog Post, because I know I am going to love it. Your writing is captivating. And as someone who writes and edits for a living, I appreciate your position about freelancing. Avoid it if you can! 🙂

  2. HMC February 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    It makes me happy that I could provide an adventurous vanilla bean. It makes me sad that I haven’t done anything adventurous with it’s twin in my cabinet.

  3. Jonathan Kingston February 20, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    Great post! Love the “Ask yourself whether you actually want to climb/sail the world or if just feel like it’ll make you more interesting at parties… ” part. I can only speak for myself, but I loved that stuff before I even knew what a party was.

  4. Chris February 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Kara, “they also serve who only stand and wait”. That is you, I think. You are in transition, standing and waiting for the next phase of your life. Transitions are tough; waiting is tough. Admitting that you don’t want to be a rock-star is humbling/honest. You are all these things.

    When you have a child, you become the wind beneath that child’s wings. For myself, I have loved that role. It may sound minimalistic. It is actually more hard work with subtle but enormous rewards.

    I, like you, am not that adventuresome and have had joy in smaller achievements. I am taken with the small details. I have been trying to capture in a photo the tiny hairs of a tiny sundew plant for years–this is emblematic of my “ambitions”–to fully appreciate the small details . . .

    I appreciate your perspective. You may very well have chosen “the better part,” IMO.

    Chris, MSN, RN

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