I have a history of comparing myself to others, feeling intimidated, and shrinking.
Point in case: In high school I was in the art program. Our class was small, maybe 8-10 people and there was another student named Josh who was an amazing painter. He’d put up huge pieces of paper on the wall and paint a fish-eye street-art-esque image of a guy eating a hot dog in bold colors, confidently messy strokes, and all in a class period or two. Watching this, I shrunk. Not all the way, but mostly. I would sit, working with my oil paint sticks on a self portrait, wondering if I’d ever figure out how to be that bad ass. His awesomeness became food for my ego to further beat me up with judgment of the “you suck, don’t even bother, get back in your cage” variety.
When I look back on my life 90% of my regrets are things I didn’t do, didn’t say, didn’t express, didn’t extend into. When I look at these incidents they’re all instances when I felt scared and insecure, held myself back through doubt, second-guessing, and shutting down, and then the moment passed me by as I sat on the sidelines and in many cases someone else jumped onto the court.
Connect the dots
I think it’s important to take time out to connect the dots in your life. History DOES repeat itself. Patterns DO continue… until you SEE them and decide to do things differently. But knowing about a pattern and really SEEING it aren’t the same thing. Seeing it takes courage, and is often served with a slice of humble pie because it’s all about personal responsibility. If your assessment, when looking at the patterns of your choices and actions in your life, is concluded by blaming someone else or making excuses for your own capabilities, you’re not seeing the pattern yet. It always comes back to you because you’re the common denominator in your life.
There’s always going to be someone better at the thing you’re into than you. Always. They’re started sooner, had more support, are more innately skilled at the area, have a stronger work ethic, are a faster learner. etc. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it because YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY GO FOR IT. Living with regret, with thoughts of “what if…” or ongoing feelings of “I suck, I can’t…” is a degrading and bummer approach to life. Risking, extending, daring, shining, trying – that’s living.
Everyone starts in the same place: from where they are. We can get into the habit of comparing our beginnings with someone else’s well-developed expression and feeling like we’ll never measure up, so why bother. Right? Wrong. Comparing ourselves to others in this way makes us feel miserable because it’s top-tier sabotage. It’s a form of self-punishment and self-beating and is part of how ego controls us.
It’s taken me a LOT of practice to break down my habit of doing this. To reach towards people who inspire me and let their awesomeness raise me up and inspire my own expression, instead of shut it down. Part of how I’ve done this is by researching and collecting stories of spiritual and artistic folk’s journeys, both people I know or know of and people in the public eye. Doing this reminds me that we all start at the beginning and nobody makes it to a place of fullness or mastery in their particular avenue of expression without setbacks, hard work, and dedication over time. Even Beyonce.
Imagine the thing you wish you were awesome at. Maybe you’re already cracking away at it and are somewhere in the middle, or maybe it’s still an unexplored dream at this point. Now imagine a person you really look up to in this field. Who is it? Now imagine you find yourself in a room with them while they’re doing their thing the best they can. How do you respond? Now imagine being in a calm environment with them when it would be easy to interact. What do you do?
I’ve been in this situation numerous times and as I mentioned, in my early days this situation was an express train to shut down city. As I’ve gotten older, I saw that I was wasting opportunities to learn so I developed an approach of watching, taking notes, and asking questions. This approach has radically ramped up my learning curve with all sorts of things I’m interested in and changed it so other people’s awesomeness inspires my own. What a great switch!
Last thing I’ll say here: Beyond being fuel for self-beating, comparison that leads us to hold ourselves back is one way we protect ourselves from having to do hard work. Really showing up can be hugely confronting. It shows us all our lame stories, insecurities, lazy habits, and self-defeating addictions and makes us choose which is more important: passion and hard work or resistance and sabotage. If you watch any of these amazing movies of people expressing their awesome selves, you’ll see each of these people has a strong work ethic because the awesomeness of full expression doesn’t happen through whimsy.
Shine bright you crazy diamond!