A lot of us grapple with the issue of constantly comparing ourselves with others. As a Toastmaster, I myself fall victim to this once in a while, thinking along these lines: How come so-and-so speaks so well and I am not even close! Now, there are 2 implications to this kind of thinking:
- We end up being so depressed that we almost give up trying to be better than the other person
- We end up blaming God saying that God was unjust to us - the other person was blessed with a lot of talent and I was not! How could God be so unjust to me? sob sob
Today, I am going to talk to you about a third possibility. How about, That person is at a different stage in his skill-journey than I am; I better buckle up and start putting in more effort to get there myself! I will talk about the reason why I am objectively referring to the person's journey and not the person himself in a while.
I am currently reading a book titled 'Talk like TED' by Carmine Gallo. The book mainly takes cues from some of the most famous TED talks to distill out the key ingredients of an inspiring speech. It notes that the study of neuroplasticity has helped scientists realise that our brains actually grow and change through out our lives. It says:
The intense repetition of a task creates new, stronger neural pathways in our brain. As a person becomes an expert in a particular area - music, sports, public speaking - the areas of the brain associated with those skills actually grow (...) Scientists also found that the gray matter involved in playing music (motor regions, anterior superior parietal and inferior temporal areas) was highest in professional musicians who practiced one hour a day, intermediate in amateur musicians, and lowest in nonmusicians. Learning a new skill and repeating the skills over and over builds new pathways in the brain.
This made me remember the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell mentions in his book, 'The Outliers'. He says, in order for anyone to become an expert in any area, he/she needs to have spent at least 10,000 doing that. Now imaging that you spend one hour per day practising your favourite skill, that's 365 hour per year. Effectively, at this pace, it will take you 27 years to be a master at that skill!
So to continue what I said in the beginning, anyone can absolutely become an expert in anything if we are willing to put in the required effort. The more I practice the better I get. For example, if I am passionate about Public speaking, I will do all that is in my power to improve my public speaking skills. I will forego my vacation time, my movie time, start honing my skills, pro-actively seek out speaking assignments, and I will still be happy doing all this! That's the power of passion. That is why it's the other person's stage in the public speaking journey that you need to aspire for and not to be the person himself. If the other person has spent almost all of his waking hours practicing a skill while you go about sulking all day, hardly spending 1 hour per day honing the same skill, then you have NO right to compare his/her ability with yours and feel bad about it! All you can to do is start working on the skill more intensely.
Recently, I was at a Toastmasters District conference and I got an opportunity to interact with Mr. Lance Miller, the World Champion of Public speaking (2005). He was standing outside the conference Hall chatting with everyone. I just walked upto him and asked, Sir, I need your advice on something. Whenever I stand in front of an audience, I get extremely nervous. I've had situations where I have messed up because of this. He smiled at me and said, That just proves that you're not an alien! He went on, It's natural to feel nervous. Even I get nervous. So there's nothing to worry about.
Though his statements gave me some amount of consolation, I was still not done. So I asked him, How do we get over it, then? His simple and logical response opened my eyes! He said, just like you work out to improve your muscle and body strength, you also need to work out your brain. The more you practice (exercise your brain), the better you get at that skill. He asked me to keep at it so I can be a better speaker. He also gave me some tips on managing nervousness in general and being passionate about the content you are delivering, but the point I want to drive down is the amazing ability of our brains to create a strong neural pathway when we start learning a skill. The more we practice, the stronger the bond will get and the part of the brain that is associated with that skill will change structurally.
That's why one of my favourite quotes is this:
The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday!
Stop comparing yourself with others and start comparing yourself with the 'you' of yesterday. To say the least, it will be a whole lot motivating than comparing yourself with others. So my advice to you is this:
If there is something that you want to be good at, or if you have a goal that you want to achieve in the short or long term, spend time doing it consistently. Spend at least an hour every day doing the things that will take you one step closer to your goal. If there is a conscious and consistent effort on your part to be the person you want to be, then nobody can stop you from being that person!