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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.

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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.