Saturday, May 26, 2012

Perception and Perspective

It's hard not compare yourself to others, or be compared by others.  How we see ourselves in light of others can get a bit distorted as much as the way we are seen by others.  It's an interesting dynamic that plays out in our heads.  It can be good for motivation, but it can be hard to fight the negative too.

I was reminded of this last weekend while talking to my parents about my marathon time.  My mom said "Well, you still finished faster than half the people, right?  I would think you would."  Thanks mom, but I actually finished in the slowest 20%.  To my mom, a non-runner, I seem like I should have kicked that marathon's butt.  To other non-runners, it's an impressive feat that's usually admired.  I know loads of people that have run marathons though, and it's easily to lose sight that, hey, this really isn't a normal accomplishment.  I forget that even if I'm slow, the last person to finish still finished!  Millions of others never will.

Sometimes I like to compare myself to other runners though, and I like to know how much faster they are; it helps to motivate me.  I read a good amount of running blogs.  While I find comfort in similar runners, I get more out of reading about the speedy girls.  I want to know they run 5 miles at pace I can't keep for a fraction of that.  I like knowing this is the 5th marathon or their 10th this year.  I like knowing I  have such a gap to jump and what seems like endless room to improve.

Comparing your achievements can become overwhelming though, when the challenge becomes self-defeat.  Grad school can have a way of making you feel like you know nothing.  You are learning plenty, sure, but the exams are harder and expectations are higher than anything that has come before.  In PT school, I found myself getting caught up in comparisons with classmates.  Who had more right answers, better grades, and on and on.  It became so easy to forget what I was accomplishing.  Um, hi, you can call me Dr. ZestyNerd.  I've had to remind myself often to not lose sight of that.

I think it's the surrounding ourselves with such similar people that really emphasizes this.  A doctorate degree feels like no big deal when the 53 people you see every day are doing the exact same thing.  And then you realize how much you've accomplished to get there.  When you are running a marathon with thousands of other people, it's easy to forget how many millions of people you've lapped on the couch.  When you start comparing what you have with others, you start to forget about all you've got (is that a song lyric?).  This reminds me of the petty girls that compare the size of engagement rings too- pretty sure they've lost sight of where they're at too.

So what can we do to keep, essentially, our heads on straight.  How do you see things without the distortion?  How do you challenge your mind and body without defeating both?  Where can you strike that balance without becoming complacent?

It works different for everyone.  Keep an open mind and run (figuratively) with a diverse group of friends.  (I think this is the point where I am obligated to turn cliche)  We are all unique with interesting quirks, qualities, and hobbies.  Celebrate it, share it, and explore it.  When we surround ourselves with people that are just-like-us it can make us lose sight of who we are meant to be.  And when your family wants to put you on a pedestal because they think you're just that awesome- go ahead and let them.  They might just have a thing or two to teach you.

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