You vs you; the truth about who you’re up against

“The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”.

I know, I know. It had better be a punchy blog post if I’m going pull off opening with a line from the bloody Sunscreen Song. But humour me, there’s a point here.

Tonight I had dinner with a few friends who are on the Marketing Academy with me. The scholarship we all received is an intensive year long program designed to foster leadership, management and general EQ skills. It’s an amazing experience and as such carries a sense of obligation.

It’s not just something you just turn up to faculty days for and by some wizardry you’re a better person. There is a lot of personal development exercises, a need to find time to reflect and a huge focus on defining individual purpose.

This evening, in a cathartic discussion over ramen, we shared our sense of feeling like we were falling behind a bit with the course material. While we had all had an equal number of mentor and coaching sessions and had each attended the same number of workshops, we were worried that we needed to be doing more.

As we are all very driven people, this feeling wasn’t new or surprising. For people who tend to achieve quite highly the question of “is what I’m doing enough?” hangs about a lot of the time.

However, as I listened more to the others express the same feelings I had, I realised one thing we were all doing that wasn’t helping the situation at all. We were benchmarking our growth on the course based on the way that other people were choosing to tackle it.

Some had set aside time to go through all the learning material each week while others were doing presentations to their teams at work to reinforce certain modules. Some had even been keeping daily journals to categorise different types of information they had learned.

Without realising it, we were looking at these measures the others had in place and started to think “I’m not doing that; I’m falling behind”.

In a way, I don’t think it was until I heard the others articulate this that I realised just how crazy this thinking comparison cycle was.

Humans are one of the most complex species on the planet. We can barely agree what side of the footpath to walk on, let alone settle on a standardised ‘way’ we should work through highly personal and reflective exercises. And yet this was exactly what my friends and I were doing; marking ourselves against other people’s personal systems.

For me, writing is a way I help articulate my thoughts. While there is quite an obvious output to show from that, I think I get equal value from simply talking about a lot of this stuff. To someone else that might seem wasteful, but for me, it works. Does that mean I’m not getting as much out of it as others? Of course not. It’s simply a different more personalised approach.

While it’s an easy habit to fall into we need to remember that individual progress, especially when it comes to self development, can only ever be judged within our own framework. What others may do or achieve might act as a good reference point, it shouldn’t become our focus. It’s distracting and can lead us away from what is right for us.

We can and should only ever judge ourselves against ourselves. We have to do the best within our own means and learn to acknowledge but not benchmark against those around us. At the end of the day, no eulogy ever draws comparison to how we stacked up against other people and while it’s a sobering sense check, it’s a worth while one to keep in mind.