This past weekend I had the pleasure of competing in The Carolina Cup, a stand up paddle board (SUP) race. It's a well known race that attracts professional paddlers from around the world as well as hundreds of SUP enthusiasts from across the country. I participated in the 10K intermediate race. This was my second race at this distance and since I came in last at my first 10k SUP race, I was hoping for an improvement.
When the race began I was ready for the quick start and fast cadence, but it didn't take long for most of the pack to pull away from me. Around the halfway point I looked behind me and saw a short string of paddlers. I was feeling strong, and paddling hard but still near the back. My friends were long gone in front of me and I felt defeated. I wallowed in my pity for a few minutes and snapped out of it when I passed a support boat whose captain was playing the ukulele for the racers. He cheered for me like I was in first place!
I realized that my angst was caused by comparing myself to others. I felt slow compared to the folks in front of me. I wondered why I couldn't pass the man beside me because I felt sure my stoke was better and I looked at the paddlers behind me as potential enemies, putting me in very last if they passed me. I pulled my focus back to my board, into my body and onto my race. I realized that I definitely felt stronger then past races. I reminded myself that my focus had been on building endurance so hadn't trained yet to be fast. I was successfully navigating with tide and current, variables I don't have in my local paddling waters. As soon as I stopped comparing myself to others and focused on my performance and personal goals I was back to enjoying the experience of the race and even felt proud of my improvements over the past 6 months.
We can get caught in the trap of comparing ourselves to others which usually results in not being enough; not smart enough, fast enough, thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough. You get the picture. If we do this too often we feel self defeated and insecure as I did during the race. Constant comparison inhibits the true expression of who we are because we are so worried that we aren't enough. Several times after reading a book by an author I admired, I would stop work on my novel, Hungry Mother Creek, because my writing seemed so amateurish compared to theirs.
It is important for each of us to resist the temptation to compare ourselves to others and focus on following our passions and living life in a way that makes us happy. When we stop trying to measure up to others and just be ourselves, we ensure that the unique gift we have brought to this world will be expressed. It might be making others laugh, creating a beautiful piece of art, starting a successful business or writing a novel. Most likely if you are doing things just a little bit differently then the people around you, then you are doing things exactly right for you!