This post originally appeared January 6, 2015 on acuff.me .
At what age do you stop having nightmares about college? Because I’m apparently not that age yet.
The details are always the same.
I’ve skipped class all semester but suddenly showed up for the day of the final. And it’s one of those classes where 100% of your grade is based on the final. I start to sweat and run to the administration building to drop the class, but I’ve missed the cutoff. It’s too late!
Then I wake up.
Have you ever had that particular nightmare?
The other one I sometimes have is about writing research papers. When I was in college, nobody had personal computers, instead we had personal hells called “Computer labs.”
These stress chambers were rooms, often located in windowless spaces in the library basement, that contained the most temperamental computers ever built.
You never knew if they were going to work or if the printer would jam or worst of all, if you’d actually get one when you showed up in the lab. The worst feeling was walking through that door and realizing all the computers were already taken by other people who were better prepared than you.
In those moments, it was easy to compare myself to other people. I remember constantly asking friends, “How is your paper coming? Are you done? How much do you have written?” I asked them because then I could compare my progress against theirs.
In the midst of doing that one day, my friend Jimmy told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Don’t compare yourself to other people. If you’re ahead of them, you’ll get too prideful and be tempted to coast. If you’re behind them, you’ll get depressed and want to give up. Just write your own paper.”
I love that and I think he’s right.
Comparing yourself to others leads to arrogance or shame, but never happiness.
Arrogance tells you that you’re ahead. That you’re better than them. That you know something they don’t know or have accomplished something better than someone else. Pride then comes in like a wrecking ball. (Are we still doing Miley references in 2015?)
Shame tells you that you’re behind. That you’ll never catch up. That someone else has an unfair advantage and the odds are wrongfully stacked against you. That it would be a lot easier to give up.
Neither thing leads you one step closer to your goal.
Write your own book.
Start your own business.
Lose your own weight.
Walk the path that you’ve been given to walk this year.
Comparing your journey to somebody else’s is the best way to miss the one you’re actually on.