Cut the Comparisons: 3 Ways to Embrace Your Unique Path

A few weeks back, I checked a book of short stories out of the library—a book which had won many prestigious awards.

Over the next few days, I read those stories whenever I got a chance, snatching moments out of my day when I probably should’ve been bathing my kids, or washing dishes, or ironing shirts. The stories, the language, the subject matter—it was all just so gripping. What a gift this writer had.

After I finished the final, climactic story in the volume, I flipped to the end of the book to learn more about the author. I expected the silver-haired, well-lined face of an Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood type. Instead, I was shocked to discover the author was just two years older than I am, and still in his early thirties.

As a writer, myself, I immediately started making comparisons. My head said things like, “You’ve published a few stories, but this guy has published a whole book of stories. A few thousand people have read your work, but millions of people have read and loved his. You’re the lowly writer pitching to big-name literary magazines and hoping for a positive response; he’s the editor of one of those big magazines, doling out form rejection letters to deluded people like you.”

Then my head said the most hurtful and destructive thing: “Just what have you been doing with your life all these years?

Cut the Comparisons

Comparing yourself or your accomplishments to someone else not only prevents you from moving forward, it also prevents you from being yourself. You compare yourself to others when you feel that you isn’t the person you really want to be.

Here are three ways you can help yourself cut the comparisons and embrace your unique path:

1. Discover what’s different about your own walk. We all share commonalities in life and, on the surface, our lives may look very similar to that of our peers. For example, tonight I’m meeting up for dinner with some girlfriends, all of whom are married and currently stay at home to care for their children. One might be tempted to say we’re all at the same stage of life.

But, upon closer inspection, there are certain aspects that make our paths unique. Unlike me, none of my friends have moved to the other side of the world with their families. None of them blog (or have any idea that a blog can be anything other than an online diary); none of them write fiction; and none of them are having twins in a month or so.

On the flip side, my friends are doing things with their lives that I could never do. Our struggles and victories differ, but none of us ‘have it ‘better’ than the others.

Remembering those little things that make you different from other people is a good way to keep in mind that no one else can walk your path, and you can’t walk someone else’s. And, if we all walked the same path, the world just wouldn’t work.

What makes your walk different?

2. Identify the gift that’s uniquely yours. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’ll never be as talented as that person”?

If your talent were playing the piano, yes, you would share that talent with hundreds of thousands of other people, and there would always be those who are better than you at it.

But what aspect of that talent is your particular gift? Would it be in your ability to improvise? To compose a beautiful song? In your dynamics, your soft touch, your technical skills?

I’ve played the piano for the last 25 years. Technically, my skills are atrocious, but I can sit down and compose something no one else could have. That’s my gift, and I’m happy to have it.

My writing is the same. I may not be the best writer, but when I read the stories I’ve published, I know they’re uniquely mine. No one else in the entire world could have put those stories together in the same way.

What’s your unique gift? What can you do that no one else can?

3. Swap envy for admiration. Envy is insidious; it fosters resentment and hardens you against change. But, admiring someone who’s achieved something to which you aspire is a great way to motivate yourself toward progress. So, always be thankful for those who’ve gone before you.

Admiring someone is not idolizing. Admiration can take the form of studying someone’s accomplishments, conducting an interview with them, doing a write-up about them for your blog, or anything else that helps you learn more about how they’ve achieved success.

You might even offer to promote or give a hand to someone you admire, in the effort to help them be even more successful. Doing so shows your admiration and respect for that person, while helping to quell feelings of jealousy.

In which areas of your life can you exchange envy for admiration?

Celebrate Who You Are

Once I stopped beating myself up for not being as far in my writing life as the young author of this acclaimed book, I decided to do a bit more research.

Turns out, he’s not married and has no children. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m married and have two (soon to be four) children. As a busy mom and blogger, I couldn’t possibly spend as much time developing my fiction-writing talent as someone without those responsibilities.

But, just one look at the faces of my two beautiful, amazing sons, and just one hand on my enormous twin-belly, reminds me I also would never trade motherhood for the accolades of the world. For me, motherhood is the highest calling; all the rest is just icing on the cake.

In the end, though I might admire where others are in their journey, I wouldn’t trade my path for anyone else’s.

Life is short. When you’re tempted to draw comparisons between yourself and someone else, pause to celebrate who you are, at this very moment.

Some Amazing Comments

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About Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is the creator and chief editor of Write It Sideways, and author of The Busy Mom's Guide to Writing. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Grist: The Journal for Writers, Saw Palm: Florida Art & Literature, The Sand Hill Review, and The Best of the Sand Hill Review anthology.

Comments

  1. Awesome article encouraging each of us to find our passion, Suzannah! I do occasionally find myself wanting someone else’s talents. Being reflective about my own experiences and blessings makes me quickly realize that I am unique and can also add to the conversation. (Love following your blog, by the way!)

  2. Thanks, this was EXACTLY what I needed to connect with today. Getting caught in the comparison merry go round is so easy, and all it does is lead you further down a non productive and sometimes destructive path. I think this is especially true for authors, or maybe that’s my own bias, being an author. I have so been on this track and it’s a bad trip. These are great ways to help put things back into perspective.

  3. We often think the grass is always greener on the other side, don’t we? We think others are doing better than us, living happier than us, and we tend to neglect the ‘beauties’ that we have in our life. Your post is very inspiring and helpful to prevent us from falling into the ‘comparison trap’. Thanks Suzannah!

  4. Hi Suzannah,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I could relate so much to how you felt when you compared yourself to someone else.

    Not long ago I had a similar experience and wrote a blog post about it too. I’ll share it via Comment Luv below.

    I am a lot better at not comparing myself to others since I have been working at this for years. Regardless of this

    there’s one thing I learned from my own experience, it can always be triggered when we least expect it. What we get better at with practice is managing our responses when it arises. As long as we don’t become consumed by the comparison leading us to dark and lonely places, we can recover quickly and move on again.

    ~Marcus

    • You make a good point about not being consumed by comparison. It’s natural to compare yourself with someone, but if you can limit how far those feelings go and what toll they take on your self-confidence, you’ll be better off. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for the inspiration (-:
    Blessings,
    Elisa
    http://thinkwonderfulthoughts.wordpress.com

  6. Hi, Suzannah…
    This article is really good. I’ve enjoyed reading the original content and fresh ideas you wrote. You are good at writing on this topic and I hope I can read more of your work soon.

  7. I like what you said about swap envy for admiration towards others. But also towards oneself. Often we “wish were like this or that” but it’s so much more healthier to admire the parts of us that we like rather than hate.
    Thanks for the post

  8. I think the underlying reason is lack of self-belief among people. We tend to become what others expect us to be and end up living a life that others want us to live. If we can be what we want to be and live the life we want to live , things would be different and the world would also be different. We need to live a life inside out and not the other way round.

  9. Perhaps our impulse to compare ourselves to others was programmed into our sub-conscience minds when we were young. As children we might have been compared to our siblings or classmates, especially if we didn’t “measure up” to them. Your remarks are a sweet reminder that the only comparisons we should be making is in relation to our own growth and reaching our goals.
    Thank you for a great post.

  10. Powerful truths. Role models, goals and friends often become yardsticks. Just stop and think of how many people would like to be you!

  11. I used to compare myself with others ALL THE TIME, whether it was their looks or their success in life or in the career, I always wanted what others had. When my first digital product didn’t sell too many copies at the beginning, I constantly thought that if I were a different person, this would not be happening. Now I know how ridiculous this is. I live my own life and I am my own piece of art and just as fantastic as everybody else.

  12. Suzannah, you’re such an inspiration. My husband has this habit of looking at the gorgeous houses when we pass through Beverly Hills. “I wish we had that one” or “Look at that one.” (We live in a one-bedroom apartment.) I often have to remind him to keep his eyes on the road, because it’s our lifeline at that moment. I’m not really saying comparison kills, but it does kill passion and creativity. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thanks so much, Debra :) I totally agree with the house thing. Back home, everyone my age has a house of their own, but where we live right now house prices are far more prohibitive, so we’ve been renting. Although I dream of one day buying our own home, I regularly give thanks for the house we rent, which has the most gorgeous view of the ocean you could imagine!

  13. This is the perfect post for me to read today. I’m taking a break right now from working on my book (based on my blog). I’m stumbled so many times along the way, telling myself there are a gazillion books out there on this topic written by people who have all kinds of credentials I don’t have, and who have written books published by “real” publishers, and who have gone all over the place speaking and teaching and selling a gazillion copies.

    And then there’s me. Reality check. I don’t want to go all over speaking and teaching. I just want to speak and teach in my own little neck of the woods, which I’m already doing. I had a successful career and I don’t want another one. I want my sister’s artwork on the cover and not someone else’s idea. And (like you) I have kids and (not like you) grandkids I like to spend lots of time with. Writing is not my job or my only passion. It is one passion and I do it because I love it and it’s fun.

    What do I have that’s unique? My own perspective forged in the fires of experience. My own voice, found after years of being silenced. My own gift, not better or worse than any other’s, just mine.

    I really needed your post today. Thank you.

  14. There is no point in comparing ourselves with others. In the end, as you said, everyone is unique. Therefore, our choices and achievements are different.

    The objective is not to become like someone else. The real objective is to define our ideal lifestyle and do what is necessary to create it.

    You chose to be married and have kids, he didn’t. You’re happy, he may not be.

    Who wins in the end?

    • I don’t think it needs to be an either/or situation; I’m happy being married with children, and (at least for now) he’s probably happy being unmarried. I’m just glad to say I wouldn’t swap places with anyone else, thankful as I am for the blessings I have! Thanks :)

  15. Suzanne, I really like the way you tell it as it is. We can’t all be world-famous at what we do, but as long we accept our unique gifts (really liked that example you used!) then we can be content. It’s something I realise every day when I do my university work, I may not be exceptional all the time at sitting down and writing assignments. But I know I give it my best attempt. I feel content with that.

  16. I whole-heartedly agree, Suzannah :)

    “The only thing worth comparing is the Old You to the New You.”

    I’m reminded of Colonel Sanders who jump-started his empire around 60 years old.

    I think he did alright ;)

    Age doesn’t matter, and racing doesn’t really help :)

    Thanks for the reminder :)

    • You’re right, Jason–age doesn’t matter. Debra Eve, one of the commenters below, once wrote a guest post for me about ‘late-blooming writers.’ I was fascinated to learn how late in life some of these people came to the writing profession, and how successful they were, nonetheless!

  17. Great article. Everyone does have a unique talent. Finding it can be difficult but it is there somewhere!

  18. Hi Suzannah, I wanted to welcome you to CYT.

    I loved this piece. I have compared myself to others for most of my adult life, but around 15 years ago it all stopped when I began to really enjoy myself, and accept myself I guess. it was then that I could really appreciate the different talents of those around me and instead of being envious I admired them and that inspired me to keep going.

    I am forever grateful in my life and love each waking day, and I know the qualities I possess and I admire others for their qualities, and that is an amazing feeling.

    Now I can admire your writing and thank you for this article and helping others.

    Thanks again Suzannah I am sure the CYT readers would love having you here again.

    • Thank you so much for having me, Steve, and thank you for all your kind and thoughtful comments. I’m so glad you’ve learned to appreciate yourself for who you are, and are now enjoying each day as it comes!Thank you :)

  19. They are all ‘biggies’ Suzannah. The comparison thing is a classic. I especially like ‘swapping envy for admiration’, that’s a real breakthrough moment in my book (excuse the pun)…..and you never know, others may be comparing themselves to you…what a delight.
    Thankyou and
    be good to yourself
    David

  20. Hiten, that’s an excellent way to put it: compare yourself to yourself in terms of how much you’ve changed and grown as a person. Thanks!

  21. Hi Suzannah,

    I really liked your post.

    One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is to not compare myself to others. We are so inherently different in out abilities, it makes no sense to. What I find better, is to compare myself to myself in terms of how much I’ve changed and grown as a person.

  22. Suzannah, you are one of my favorite bloggers. Your e-book was tremendously helpful and I don’t think I would have had the same response to it if it were written differently and by someone else.

    I am definitely going to have to try these three steps. Every now and then, the envy makes me want to cry a little on the inside.

    Great guest post, Suzannah.

    And yay! I found a new blog to follow. Steven, I really enjoy this blog. :)

  23. i ALWAYS ALWAYS compare myself with others
    my shrink is helping me to celebrate my success too and stop being overly critical of myself!
    Thanks for this
    Noch Noch

  24. Thank you Suzannah for sharing your insights on the trap and foolishness of comparing oneself with others… Yet we’ve all done it haven’t we…

    Gratitude that comes from focusing on the many blessings that we do have(that as you point out are uniquely ours) rather than focusing on what we don’t have is the key to feeling blesses rather than cursed…

    And as one who specializes in teaching people how to harness the law of attraction I have found this to be one of the greatest blocks that trip people up.. which is being ungrateful for who one is and what one has…

    And the opposite is also true that one of the quickest ways to move ahead and harness the powers of The Universe is to begin to be grateful for who we are.. As you so rightly said:-

    “Celebrate Who You Are”

    With that congratulations I celebrate who you are and your unique gift that has blessed me today…

    Thank you Suzannah
    Chris T Atkinson

  25. Thank you, Suzannah. That was inspiring. Contentment in all that I am and all that I have, right now.

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