Have you ever been stopped at a red light and had a moment of panic when the car next to you moves? You push harder on the brake because—for just a second—it feels like you’re the one moving. It takes your brain that second to assess the situation and realize that you’re not going to roll into the car behind you.
It’s called relative motion. Used properly, it can greatly simplify the calculations in a physical problem. Used incorrectly, it will skew your frame of reference and perspective beyond belief.
The same is true when assessing your personal growth.
We compare ourselves to others. It’s natural, and often involuntary. Sometimes we’re being competitive. Sometimes, we’re seeking reassurance that we’re on the right track, and doing what we should be doing. Sometimes, we just want to know we’re normal.
The problem is that we tend to compare the very worst in ourselves to others at their very best. All we see in others is the beautifully coiffed hair, the gracious smile, the perfect bon mot, the final package. When we look in the mirror, we know the back story. We see this morning’s bed head, feel clueless and lost, fumble our words, and forget that everyone has those moments.
Growth is a long road. A very long road. It’s easy (and understandable) to feel like you aren’t making any progress. Every now and then, look back just to remind yourself how far you’ve come. At the end of the road is perfection. It’s the pinnacle, the person you want to be. It’s still a long way off, obscured by twists and turns and fog.
Every now and then, a car goes shooting past, and it’s hard not to feel a surge of envy and frustration, even jealousy. Someone else is getting there faster than I am! How dare they! It’s also hard not to feel smug and conceited when you pass somebody else. Both are negative emotions that will do you no good.
To make comparisons harder, there isn’t just one road we’re travelling. There’s a road for being gracious, and a road for being kind. There’s a road for being a patient parent, a road for writing clean code, and a road for helping those who have broken down on the side of the road. There’s even a road for not getting frustrated when someone passes you on the road.
Don’t focus on where you are compared to those around you. They may be further along this road than you are, but you’re further along down that one. Focus on what you can control—where you are, and the progress you’re making. You’re doing better than you think you are, and there are people who look up to you and admire you.
Take to the open highway! Roll the windows down and enjoy the ride! It’s a beautiful day! Focus on making progress on this road for a while, then switch over and focus on another area of your life for a while.
Like any road trip, this one’s best with good friends, great music, and snacks. And take lots of pictures.