In high school, I wrote an essay about why we feel jealous when the people closest to us experience success. I remember sitting at my desk and just staring at my blank paper for a while. My first instinct was to eloquently share how I never felt that way. But the longer I sat there, the more I knew this wasn’t true.
As I get older and see my close friends and others around me have big successes with their creative endeavors, it can be hard not to feel left behind, forgotten or “less than” in some way. And while half of me wants to cheer my friends on in their accomplishments, I also can’t help but feel guilty that my other half wants to do something bigger or better and be noticed, too.
But in the words of Autumn Sky Hall, “Creativity is not a competition,” and while I have by no means “arrived,” I have learned a few lessons along the way that have helped me battle these competitive feelings:
Life, in general, is not a competition.
Each person is gifted with a unique set of talents, gifts and abilities, making them well equipped for the path they’re on and the work they are doing. The accomplishments people around us make simply prove that they are doing what they were meant to do, and their gifts, talents and abilities have arrived at that goal. So rather than seeing another person’s success as stealing what you consider yours, strive to see them as using their gifts to achieve what they were made for.
Verbally acknowledge the cost that led them to their success.
For those who accomplish something truly stellar, the chances are high that it was costly. Yes, great gains were made, but not without some kind of loss along the way. Time was invested, perhaps money was spent, and risks were taken. And during the process leading up to their success, no doubt there were times when it was hard to see the forest because of all the trees. While the overall accomplishment may outweigh the smaller defeats faced along the way, it’s still important to acknowledge what made that person successful. And nothing is more empowering than letting that person know you notice their investments and are proud of the payoff that’s come to them because of their fortitude. Rather than offering a simple “Congratulations!” take a moment to say something specific, like: “Congratulations! I know you’ve worked hard for this moment and it’s exciting to see your hard work pay off in such a big way.” Taking it a step further, and depending on how well you know the person, it might be even more meaningful to them if you point out some real-life moments where you saw them overcome a hardship that threatened their success.
Be motivated by other’s successes, not defeated.
Rather than letting another person’s success define your own, let it drive you. You are uniquely gifted. Remember that. Instead of letting another person’s achievements make you feel inferior, use it as motivation to continue improving your own work. Let their accomplishments serve as a reminder to you of your own capabilities, and what’s possible as you continue to learn and grow.
Don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve come.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we had our own meager beginnings, too. And when someone close to us experiences a breakthrough accomplishment, it can feel like we’re still stuck at square one while everyone around us is close to owning the world. It’s times like this to remember what you do have and what you have already accomplished. Instead of comparing yourself to those around you, take a moment to reflect back on your own path and how far you’ve come along.
Rather than seeing your friends and their success as the enemy, use it as an opportunity to learn from them. Reflect on how they overcame any obstacles, how they practiced and refined their work to get it where it is today, and look at ways you can put those lessons to work in your own life. Stop comparing yourself to those around you and be mindful of the gains you’ve made on your own path towards success. Because we were not designed to compete with each other, nor let ourselves grow complacent. But rather, we were made to grow through life together.