Stop Comparing Yourself To Others (And Playing Poker In Back Rooms)

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I spent every day of this week on the same brick Denver patio, sipping on a craft beer so thick and dark that each rich mouthful gave me a beer moustache, which everyone knows is like a milk moustache only much less healthy better.

It’s my favorite place to work, because when the weather breaks upwards of 75, they roll open the glass garage doors that make up every wall, inviting in the spring-almost-summer breeze along with a 5-piece live jazz band and a few local wackaloons who play poker at the back corner table and wager things like their last sagging cigarette.

And every day this week, as I mentally willed my face pores to gape open so I could selfishly hoard all the sunlight, I ordered a Caesar salad. More specifically, I ordered the bread that comes on the side of the salad. Cranberry bread, to be exact, that arrives in thick slabs, spread liberally with a house-made butter, and topped with chopped (and lightly salted) pistachios. And this bread, run quickly through the dredgings of dressing in the bottom of my salad bowl and followed with a swallow of beer, makes me want to straddle the chef and promise him riches, lapdances, and yeah–my last (hypothetical) sagging cigarette.

But yesterday, as my jaw tensed up in preparation for something literally drool-worthy, my eyes darted to the side, and I caught sight of it–a huge ol’ honking hunk of Monte Cristo sandwich, the cheese running out from between the layers of ham and turkey, powdered sugar dusting the plate like the first damn October snowfall, and a side of brazenly bright raspberry jam, flirting with me from its cup and daring me to dip in a finger.

As I looked down at my bowl of three kinds of robust, crispy lettuce, strips of grilled chicken, and liberal gratings of parmesan, I immediately and forcibly didn’t want my salad. I didn’t want the cranberry bread on the side. I didn’t even want my table anymore, (that somehow managed to have both the perfect amount of morning sun and afternoon shade). Because I’d seen what a fellow diner had, and their triumphs made my decisions look like total shit.

Long prose paragraphs about Monte Cristos aside, (though in my defense, it’s a sandwich that comes doused in powdered sugar, you guys), my lunch boiled down to one simple fact:

It’s easy enough to feel good about what you’re doing and who you are until you catch sight of what other people are doing. Of who other people are.

And in the few seconds it takes to hear a fork clatter on a plate to your right, you’re smack-dab in the thick of OCD–Obsessive Comparison Disorder–a sneaky little sucker, (complete with jauntily-placed fedora and dubious sneer), that rears its ugly head solely to whisper in your ear that you’re not as good as X. Or Y. Or even sometimes Z. (Because everyone knows the last three letters of the alphabet are elitist assholes.)

When push comes to shove pushier?

I have a friend who’s literally changing the world with his honors thesis at Stanford Law. Roughly two dozen acquaintances who are spending their days on mission trips in Haiti. An ex who’s hitchhiked through the entire U.S., (and boathiked to Hawaii), and is writing what will probably be the next great American novel about it.

And with this huge, expansive world, (and all of the absolutely incredible, talented, and accomplished people in it), how are we supposed to manage to keep our eyes on our own damn prize long enough to become one of those aforementioned incredible, talented, and accomplished people? How do we value our salads when there’s a full menu available?

The answer? We don’t.

At the end of each and every day, we’re all so plugged in that it’s impossible not to pop your head up once in awhile, (or refresh a Facebook feed), and not see all the important work other people are doing. I mean, my Twitter feed this very second is 87% blog posts, business updates, and product launches. (Shout out to Ms. Weber, my sixth grade math teacher. Percentages in the houuuuuse! (A blue house, with white shutters, and some lovely petunias adorning the front walk.))

But despite the constant and vigorous rush of accomplishments that are blowing by us at all hours of every single day, it’s non-negotiable that you sit in your favorite chair, perched caddy-corner in your living room and in front of the window that overlooks your neighbors’ swimming pool, take a drag off your gin and tonic, (with a borderline obscene amount of lime), and accept that there is not a finite amount of success.

Just because other people are doing noteworthy things doesn’t mean you can’t do noteworthy things, too.

There’s no quota for talent. There’s no law for accomplishments.

And instead of seeing all of these outstanding people as soul-sucking competition who are hellbent on leaching off your dreams and driving your determination straight down the murky hole of a Port-A-Potty in the sweltering heat of Bayou Blue, Louisiana–feed off their force. Get inspired by their innovation. And share in the success.

They’re not the enemy. They’re just like-minded people with stories to share, goals to reach, and couches to sleep on.

They might be a few well placed, stiletto-adorned steps ahead of you, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of your league. It doesn’t mean they’re better than you in any fundamental way that actually matters. And it doesn’t mean you won’t get there.

So go ahead and take a second. Push your shoulders back the way posture professors have been instructing since the actual beginning of time. Thoroughly scope out the joint. Maybe even stand in awe for a second.

And then–competition be damned–continue making the moves that matter most to you.