In the last session, I told my therapist about how I sometimes feel embarrassed while I'm among other students, at University - because the writing of my thesis is going much slower than it should, and everyone seems to be doing better than me. Then, my therapist said something that had a strong impact on me. She said: "You loathe the race. You say you don't want to be on the race. Nevertheless, you're still on the race."
She's right... I'm still on the race.
'But what race?...' - You may ask. Well, this competition in which we're placed very early in life. Some of us (like me) begin learning to evaluate our success (and, consequently, our worth) from grades - especially from comparing them with other kid's grades. What they forget to tell us is that we're trying to compare what cannot be compared. Why is 18 (out of 20) better than 14? Perhaps the student with 14 had to work harder in order to surpass his limitations, and perhaps he was more engaged in the process and had more fun while studying...
Throughout life, we continue evaluating our worth by measuring and comparing things like:
- Professional/social status;
- Business (a.k.a.: number of roles and activities we're involved and can squeeze into our days);
- Materialistic acquisitions;
Sadly, many of us don't seem to be able to quantify the quality and meaning of these things in our lives unless we compare them to what's going on in other people's lives. As in 'I thought my clothing was OK, but now that I've seen Miquelina's wardrobe I feel like a ragamuffin!' Or 'I thought I had a good resume, but Asdrubal has many more postgraduate courses and traineeships than I do. Bah... I'm worthless...'
The thing is, if we really think about it, no comparison is ever truly fair. Because we're never comparing identical backgrounds, contexts, motivations, experiences, etc, etc. We're never actually comparing 'comparable' stuff.
Asdrubal may win the race, but perhaps he was so focused on winning he didn't notice the flowers along the path, or the lovely birds chirping. Ildefonso may arrive in 10th place, but he may have actually noticed the flowers, and the birds, and perhaps he even stopped for a while to chat with a beautiful girl who was passing by. Maybe Ildefonso didn't noticed there was a race, to begin with.
So, what is a better alternative? I guess we can simply choose to step out of the race.
Perhaps this sounds scary. If I'm not constantly evaluating myself against what others are doing, how will I know if I'm on the right path or if I'm successful? First, I have to say I've come to dislike (very much) the word 'successful', at least considering the way it is traditionally defined. Second, I've learned to believe there is no universal 'right path'. I believe we need to search within ourselves for what feels right to us, in each period of our lives, even if no one else is doing it.
Perhaps we should frequently ask ourselves questions like:
- Am I doing what I'm doing just because everyone else is doing it?
- Am I just trying harder for the sake of being the best?
- What is meaningful to me?
- What am I passionate about?
- What makes me feel truly alive?
- How can I bring more of these elements (meaningfulness/passion/aliveness) into my life?
I think we can look at others' lives for inspiration. But just for that - inspiration. Not in a competing-kind-of-way. Because every human path is unique, beautiful, and important...
From now on, I'll certainly be asking myself the above questions much more often :)
Note: I'm always very happy to hear from you in the comments section!