About 10 years ago, I was employed for 6 hours a week to teach guitar. I used to love it. I found great satisfaction in seeing people reach and excel their learning targets, plus I got to play guitar with some great people! Unfortunately, my circumstances meant I had to give up that job and get one that wasn’t anywhere near as satisfying but helped me pay the bills.
I never stopped playing guitar, I love playing music. I am a pretty competent musician and I have played on some big stages with some big names and, generally, I am quite confident in my ability. A couple of years ago I had the idea that I was going to set myself up to teach music privately. I made a few phone calls, met with a few people who gave me some great advice, started up a Facebook page, acquired some more gear, met up with a graphic designer who made me some logos and artwork, gathered up some teaching materials and started to generate some interest. It was going so well. That was until I had one thought;
‘What if I am not good enough to do this?’.
There are two ways in which I could have gone at that point:
- I could have ignored that thought, knowing that I have the experience, resources and skills to do it and all being well and created an opportunity to make a job for myself that I know I would get a lot out of.
- I could have let me insecurities get the better of me and compared myself to other people I know who teach, instantly dismissing any thought that would suggest that I could do it and replace it by comparing myself to others.
That was a number of years ago and I can tell you that I am not a guitar teacher.
Life seems to move faster and faster.We demand things quicker. We get annoyed when the latest episode of Luke Cage doesn’t load quick enough on Netflix. We have access to so much information in our pockets. We can tell the world in one picture how great our lives are without having to share any of the gory details. I can show people how great a husband I am by tweeting about it choosing to ignore the fact that I spoke out of turn to my wife because I was having a bad day. It is easy to create a perfect version of you through your Facebook profile.
The opportunity to compare our lives to others is everywhere. Not just on social media. In your career, your level of fitness, the car you drive, the friends you think you want, the way you parent your children, your creativity, the size of your house, where you live, the kind of phone you have, the kind of books you read.
To make it worse, when we feel like we are failing, it is all to easy to enter the downward spiral of comparison. It’s like a kind of black hole that sucks in your hopes and dreams into a vacuum of nothing. The more you compare your feelings of failure to the perceivable success of others, the deeper into the black hole you go.
I am writing all of this to tell you one thing.
You may have failed but you aren’t a failure.
I was sat having a coffee with a friend recently and he asked me how I am. It wasn’t just a northern ‘alreet?’ it was the kind of ‘how are you, my friend?’ that says ‘I really care and I have a genuine concern for you right now, so please talk to me, it may help’. So I told him, I mean I really spilled the beans. I talked about how many of things had changed in my life recently, things had happened and I was concerned what others may think of me.
He said to me that I need to understand the difference between my truth and the reality of others. My truth being that I have made a decision to pursue one path. The reality of others in that situation is based on only a few of the facts not all, so it is easy to make a false judgement. Just like the snap shot of someone else’s life on Instagram, it is easy to form an opinion based on the tiny piece of information presented to me. So why do I hold that opinion in such high regard?
Having a problem such as anxiety can really amplify my insecurities and make it difficult to forget the opinions of others but I firmly believe that finding a safe place to seek advice and having a friend who can show a genuine concern can really help.
The truth is, you are unique, there is no need to live a life of comparison. Your truth should never be held back by someone else’s reality. When you feel inspired, run with it and don’t stop to hold it up against someone else – it is unique to you.
I once heard it described like this; ‘Your vision is unique to you. It is nobody else’s. Nobody else will understand entirely what your vision is so don’t waste energy that you could give to your vision explaining and justifying it to someone who won’t understand’.
What are you not doing because of fear of what others may think?
When I was in school, I didn’t really care much for education and as you would imagine, my grades reflected that. In fact, I resat English 3 times and failed every time.
With the problems that I have had with my mental health, it became very evident to me that I wanted to train to be a counselor. The downside to this is that the course requirements stated that I needed a pass in Maths and English at GCSE level. Which I didn’t have. I was lead to that fork in the road again. ‘My past would say that I can’t do this, what if it is right?’ The reality of the situation was that I had failed in the past however the truth was that I could enroll on the course and at least try, breaking the ties to my past reality.
Thankfully, this time, I took option 1 and one step at a time I managed to secure my place by passing both Maths and English.
To you, passing a Level 2 City and Guilds course may not be a big deal but to me it was a huge achievement – one worth celebrating.
So let me put these questions to you. What have you given up on from fear of failure? What is it that comparison has stopped you from doing?
You, your body and your mind, are entirely different to that person/people you have been comparing yourself with. You have an entirely different path, that can go one of two ways. You can be creative, you can make stuff, you can give to others, you can be content within your life or you can spend your life comparing it to others, wishing you had what others had disregarding the things around you.
You can be a good dad, you can run that marathon, you can take that class, you can give to charity, you can take that trip. I encourage you; do what you feel you are called to do but do it for you. Do it without seeking the false approval and validation of social media. Forget the past, its called that for a reason. Who cares if someone failed at it before, you might too! Whatever it is, just try it!
If my words don’t encourage you, Elizabeth Gilbert put it this way in her book ‘Big Magic’;
‘You want to write a book? Make a song? Direct a movie? Decorate poetry? Learn to dance? Explore a new land? You want to draw a penis on your wall? Do it. Who cares? It’s your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart. (I mean, take it seriously, sure-but don’t take it seriously) Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.’