I feel like it’s a pretty universal truth that comparing yourself to others is the death of happiness. That being said, it’s hard not to compare and contrast your life to your neighbors, your coworkers, and your family and friends. It’s really damn hard on the bad days, when the self-doubt starts creeping in, to not look at your BFF, and think, “Damn! She’s got everything together, I suck.”
That’s damaging enough, but what I think is even worse, is comparing and judging yourself against the outliers. The novelist who hit the NY Times bestseller list at the age of 17. The entrepreneur who made a million dollars before their 25th birthday. You might as well pack up the shop and go home, because that comparison is going to wind up creating a sea of self-loathing tears.
Outliers are out there for a reason. They either have some amazing gift in their field, or just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right idea. Or quite frankly a combination of the two. I’m not saying, there isn’t a good amount of work involved as well, but that hard work and determination met with some luck somewhere along the line. How else do you explain two people who work their asses off and one does okay, while the other one is a huge success? There’s got to be some sort of luck/right-place-at-the-right time thrown in there. So what good could possibly come from making that comparison? None.
Now I’m not saying that I’m crying myself to sleep at night because I’m not a Christopher Paolini. Far from it, I have a healthy respect for myself and the work that I’ve done. However, lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been making some pretty major comparisons without even realizing it. In talking to people about my search for an agent, I have lost track of how many times I’ve said, “Stephen King was rejected over a hundred times, before he was signed.” Which seems innocuous enough, it’s a way to set the bar for my own experience. But then it hit me. What happens when I hit 100 or 150 rejections? I’m already half way there, so those are plausible numbers. If you add to the count the number of agents who have ignored my query letter, I’m already there. What happens to my comparison then? If I surpass Stephen King’s number and still don’t have an agent, does that mean that I’m a failure? Does that mean that I’m nothing special, just one of the average masses?
Honestly, I don’t think it means anything. The world in which he was sending out queries is so completely changed from the world in which I am it’s like trying to compare apples to water buffaloes. There is no relevant comparison possible! Which brings me back to my first thought. Even if I step away from the outlier league and look at friends, coworkers and acquaintances, I have to come to the same conclusion. THERE IS NO RELEVANT COMPARISON. Each person has their own set of gifts and hurdles that they bring to the table. Clearly, those with only a handful of hurdles are going to get further faster. Clearly, those who realize immediately what their gifts are and how to use them are going to get further faster. Those who have a couple hundred hurdles and have had to devote a good part of their life to clearing them before they could even look at their gifts, well it’s no frickin’ wonder they’re just now showing up. Contrary to popular belief, they are not late to the party. They are not behind or a late-bloomer. They are simply running their race, the best that they can.
I think it’s high time that we realize that we each have our own race to run, and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t arrive at the same milestones at the same time as those around us. Myself included.