Earlier this week, I read an interesting post on the Wisdom a la Carte blog (great name for a blog), the author Linda Binns quite rightly reasoned that we should never compare ourselves unfavourably with others. I agree 100%.
Later as I was enjoying a period of quiet contemplation during an evening walk with my dog , I thought some more about this. Should we compare ourselves favourably to others? Can that comparison be helpful?
I believe it can, here’s an example from my own life.
Participation in school sports and athletics was compulsory during my school days in Rhodesia in the 1960’s. I was pretty useless at most sports, very slow in the track events and a danger to others at any thing involving thrown objects like javelin, discus or shot put. Consequently I had little interest and became convinced I would remain forever hopeless.
Like many youngsters I had found fertile ground for comparing myself unfavourably to the “star” performers at school.
However, I could ride horses reasonably well and was competitive in a number of equine events – show jumping, cross-country and Polo-Crosse. This allowed me to shine in sports that were considered more dangerous and difficult than those participated in at school.
Now I could make some favourable comparisons about myself and recover some self esteem.
Later, the pressures of a moving to a new country, starting a new career and supporting a young family dictated that I had to forget about owning horses for several years.
When I was in my late 30’s, playing golf infrequently and indifferently, playing squash (racquetball) strenuously and stress fully, I realised that I needed to get fit by exercising more regularly. At that time, the fundraising “fun” run was becoming popular in South Africa.
It seemed that every Saturday my two sons would drag me off to a different fun run to raise money for their schools or charities. After watching them run 2 or 3 or 5 km for several weeks, I reluctantly allowed myself to be entered into a 5 km run.
An absolute disaster, I was reduced to a walk within the first 2 km, “old” people of 60 or so were overtaking me at a brisk run and asking if I needed assistance. All the unfavourable athletic comparisons from my youth re-surfaced.
Because my sons kept nagging me to continue and because I realised how unfit I was, I persevered. I started running a few times a week, soon became fit enough to run 5 km without walking and then joined a running club and started training seriously. I competed in longer races and soon found that the longer the race, the higher up I would come in the finishing order.
At the time, the 85 km Comrades Marathon was one of the biggest ultra-marathons in the world, the cut off time to receive a bronze medal was 11 1/2 hours. For novice runners like myself it was an impossible goal. To qualify for this race, runners had to complete a standard 42.2 km marathon in under 4 1/2 hours.
After progressing through 10 km, 15 km and then my first 21.1 km half marathon, the goal suddenly looked attainable. I kept racing for a year, my times and finishing positions consistently improved.
I was back in the zone where I could compare myself favourably to a large number of slower runners and a huge number of non-runners who could not, or chose not, to run those distances.
After two years of training and completing progressively longer races, I qualified by completing a 42.2 km marathon in 3 hours 20 minutes and then went on to run my first Comrades, finishing in 9 hours and 20 minutes. I cannot remember my exact position but it was in the first 4000 or the first third of the field.
Training for and completing this race, another 3 Comrades and many more marathons and ultra-marathons, taught me some of the most valuable lessons I have learned about myself. Most of these will be for another time, but the knowledge that I completed a race which only a small percentage of the population can or will, did wonders for my self esteem.
Drawing that comparison, remembering the pain I endured, using the knowledge that I performed comparatively well has enabled me to survive many dangerous, unpleasant and stressful experiences subsequently.
It has also given me the confidence to start again in yet another new country, start a new business, learn new skills and move forward.
So the point I am trying to make is that every one of us is good at something, better than the average, it doesn’t matter what that something is. It could be career or sports related, being a good parent, being artistic or creative, volunteering for charitable work, anything.
That’s the comparison we should make, not to put others down or belittle their skills, but to give us the quiet confidence that we can excel in our chosen field.
Wishing you success in all your endeavours.