Have you ever noticed that when we compare our results to someone else's, it's a win-lose game? I recall sitting down with a world-famous author, a multi-millionaire in his own right. At one point, as we were discussing his path to success, he remarked, "I am not doing too well yet. I'm already over 40. Look at where Bill Gates was at 40!" I think that he was trying to motivate himself to work harder - but the look in his face was saying something else. He was discounting all the success in his own life by comparing himself to the success of the richest man in the world. Using that measuring stick, can there ever be much happiness?
There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence or being an over-achievement junkie. Looking at where others are in life or with their careers may be helpful, but only to the extent that we learn something from their strategies (or lack thereof) that we can then implement. I saw an example of this when I watched a figure skating competition in which the American Sasha Cohen came in first place, beating the five-time World Champion Michelle Kwan. A reporter asked Sasha afterwards how it felt to beat Michelle Kwan. Sasha's answer indicated the spirit of a champion: "What I was really happy about was that I could do in competition what I have been able to do in practice. That's what I concentrated on. Michelle has been an incredibly consistent competitor and I am trying to learn that level of consistency. My performance today is telling me that I am on the right track to getting there."
The answer indicated that Sasha Cohen's performance comes from comparing herself to her own best and that she uses her competitors' performances to learn from. It also showed that Sasha doesn't use winning or losing to decide about her self-esteem. She had been concentrating on achieving something specific (consistency between practice and competition) and she used her winning as feedback regarding her improvement in that area. She had used the win as saying "I was better than myself" rather than "I was better than Michelle". This attitude is a humbling perspective for winners, and it is a winning attitude for those who place second and even further.
If I ran in a competition with a World Champion, I would always "lose" if I used the final time scores to compare my performance to theirs. I would always lose if I simply said, "well, they are so lucky. They've been able to practice because their parents were so rich, because they are a natural athlete, because this and because that."
I would have the chance to "win" if I used my own time scores to check against my own prior performance. I would improve if I painstakingly poured over videotapes of my own performance (preferably with an expert coach) to find what I did well and what adjustments I can make to my performance next time. I would improve if I poured over performance videos of the stars - not to compare but to analyze what they do well, what are the specific tools and traits that make them great. I would improve if I then set up a plan to make similar adjustments to my own performance. I would improve if I followed that plan - whether I felt like running on some windy dark winter morning or not.
Do you ever run into the trap of wanting to be better looking, richer, smarter, funnier, skinnier, in better shape, or whatever-er than someone else? It is easy to fall into it, and very hard to fall out. When you do, pretend that there is nobody else to compare yourself to. Are you happy with how you are doing? Are you working as hard and as smart as you can? If not, analyze how you can do better. Put together a plan on what you will do to improve for your own sense of achievement and satisfaction. You will notice that the more time you spend on getting better for your own reasons (or the more time you choose NOT to spend on improving if you are happy with where you are!), the less energy you will ever spend on keeping up with the Joneses.
Happy improving, sunshine and smiles,
"How much time he saves who does not look to see what his
neighbor says or does or thinks."
"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to
go beyond them into the impossible."
"You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him."