in life

Never Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else’s Middle

Lord knows I’m an ambitious guy. Heck, if you’re reading this, you’re probably pretty damn ambitious for yourself. We live in a society today full of dreamers and doers. We aren’t held back by the obstacle of “how” and instead, we try, we do, and figure things out along the way.

As much as you’re doing – you can always, always be doing more. But I’m not saying you should. Quite the contrary, I’m actually saying maybe you shouldn’t.

We have the innate ability (to which I blame a lot on social media and constantly being flooded with the awesome, incredible, and/or otherwise stupendous things other people are doing) – to compare ourselves, in everything we do – to what someone else is doing or has done.

We constantly compare our beginning to someone else’s middle. Our middle to someone else’s end. And when you do that – you’ll find that you’re never, ever satisfied. You’ll never, ever be good enough. You’ll always struggle to celebrate your accomplishments.

Jon Acuff spoke about  this at the recent Quitter Conference, and summed up the idea perfectly in an article he wrote last year for Michael Hyatt:

“One of the great temptations for us as leaders and dreamers is to compare the start of our new adventures to the middle of someone else’s. You work on your first book and pick up Max Lucado’s 14th book and say, “Mine isn’t as good.” You post your first blog post and look at Michael Hyatt’s 100th and think, “Mine is nowhere near as great as that.” You give your first speech and watch Ken Robinson’s 1,000th at TED and think, “I’m not great like that.” It’s true. You’re not. Yet.”

The picture at the top of the post is not my collection of race medals. It’s my friend Chanthana’s wall of medals. Pretty damn impressive, right? She’s awesome and I’m super jealous of all those shiny medals.

Earlier this week I took a picture and posted it to Instagram. I have three medals. Now, granted, two of them were for completing marathons and another was for a half – all in 2012 – but, I saw Chanthana’s picture and immediately thought, “Wow, I suck”.

I do the same thing when I hear about a friend landing a $100,000 client. Or see someone launch a product idea that I’ve been mulling over in my head for years but never could figure out how to put it out there.

But I’ve learned to check myself before I wreck myself. I have to – you have to – or you’ll absolutely drive yourself insane. I’ve learned to celebrate and appreciate the accomplishments of my friends and peers – to take what they’re doing and what they’ve done and use it as motivation – or in some cases simply say, “That’s awesome for them, but just not for me”.

Wherever you are in life with whatever you’re doing – you’re going to be ahead of some and behind others. That’s okay. Own where you are. Take time to embrace and celebrate that. Continue moving forward.

And never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.

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81 Comments

  1. One of my favorite quotes rings true here…

    “sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, the race is long…and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

    Thanks for the post, and the reminder!

    • Yep. That’s what I love about running, honestly. I don’t feel like I’m in competition with anyone but myself. Putting foot to pavement (literally) has helped me immensely with focus and drive in other areas of my life. Cheers!

    • Thanks for this post Matt (also, hi!!).

      I almost never got past the starting line because I kept reading über polished blog posts and seeing super shiny blog designs.

      When thinking ‘Who am I to think I have something to contribute / how can I compete?’, it’s a good reminder that the race is only with yourself (thanks Brian!) :-)

  2. so true. it’s not a race. when running a 5k (since i haven’t run a marathon.. yet), i don’t even really think of the others around me. i’m sure others might get competitive with it and probably a lot of it has to do with my lack of competitive nature to begin with, but i’m running that race for myself. to see how far *i* can go. to run *my* personal best. i believe that’s how we should all approach life. another great metaphor is being ‘on the mat’ in a yoga class, and how that translates off the mat, to the rest of your life. yoga is traditionally NOT competitive and yoga instructors teach you to go at your own pace, and to focus on your breath and your postures, NOT on what others are doing. you have to stay present, and that means grounding yourself.

    • Well said, Janet. I’m the same way. I love running because it really is an internal battle – overcoming your own mental and physical self. When you can out-will your own mind and body, it’s one heck of an accomplishment.

  3. Love this. Needed this. I often don’t do/start things if I feel I can’t compare to what someone else, more experienced, is already doing. What’s the slogan ‘Just Do It’ – Also a must read for parents. Thanks

  4. Hi Matt! Thanks for the mention! Someone once told me “forward is a pace” when I would grumble about not being fast enough. Always celebrate your own accomplishments. You’ve come so far. Be proud of those 3 medals. Keep improving and move forward. Continue to be an inspiration! Awesome post. I really enjoyed!

    • Thank YOU for continuing to inspire me, Chanthana. I even think back to sitting across from you at Panera in Chicago and talking about how much running was a part of your life. I thought you were crazy at the time and running sucked. But over the past 2-3 years it’s very much gone from being something I did to get healthier to something I do because I love doing it, because I feel guilty when I don’t. It’s habit now – and every mile has helped me in so many ways, both in running, and in all other areas of my life. I attribute a lot of getting started to your passion and excitement for running – so, domo!

  5. Great post. I’ve known lots of people who constantly compare their accomplishment with others, find the gap and actually use the gap as their momentum to work harder. However, I don’t think that’s a sustainable way to motive myself. After all, you are only competing against yourself.

    • Exactly. Of course we’re all going to keep an eye on what others are doing – and we should – to an extent. What’s most important is that you don’t get so caught up in everyone and everything else, that you forget where you are and what you’re doing and have done.

  6. Good post Matt! Just this morning, I was up at 3AM and thinking about how I want to do something great. Greatness takes time and patience. I see someone like Seth Godin and see his example of greatness. But it has taken him years and it hasn’t always been easy for him. Thanks again, Matt!

  7. My first time at the blog. What a great discovery! Thank you. I’ve been studying the trait of humility lately, which in the Jewish spiritual practice of mussar means knowing your proper place. Many of us yearn for greatness (myself included) which can be a reflection of not being comfortable with who we are today. We all touch other people every day, and when our only measuring stick is someone who has worked for years to get where they are, we miss out on appreciating all the positive we can create right now.

  8. Gosh! I have that in me, I always compare myself to others, often to people who are more experienced in work or who are older than me, and it ends up by a depression, since I am never good enough as you said. But after thinking, I realized that I don’t want to give-up on this trait because it’s keeping me motivated and always trying to overcome myself. So lately, I figured out a solution: I learned how to stop and praise myself and say how good I am, and to admit that with my scarce resources I was still able to achieve something. And it’s working!!!

  9. This is a great post, and comes at a perfect time for me. I’m working on building a home studio and working on an album, and of course keep comparing myself to the countless number of excellent albums out there. As a result, I constantly think things like: “Man, I’m not as good.” ; “I’m not doing this right.”; “What am I doing wrong?”; “I don’t have what it takes.” It gets pretty difficult to get anything done after a while with those comments hammering the inside of my head.

    Again, this is a great post. Thank for writing and sharing it!

  10. Hey Matt,

    Stumbled over here from Lifehacker, thrilled to have found your site! I feel like I suffer from the “envy” you mention so bad that I have a bout of it everyday! “Hmm, maybe I should be a fireman! Wow, you made how much? How can I get into selling pogo sticks? I’ve always dreamed of working the stock market.”

    But then I come back to earth and realize that I don’t, really, want those things and I “check myself before I wreck myself.” But still, it doesn’t really go away. Is it unhealthy? Kinda torturous on occasion.

    Thanks for posting.

    • I think it’s natural to compare ourselves to others – it’s just making sure that those comparisons don’t drive and define who we are and who we become. The danger is in constantly comparing yourself to those “ahead” of you – and when you do that, you’ll never, ever be left satisfied.

      Thanks for stopping by my neck of the woods – hope you’ll continue to be a reader!

  11. Are you reading my mind, Matt? I couldn’t have asked for better words at a better time. Thank you for always being so open-minded and honest with your readers. I love hearing your thoughts and appreciate the words of advice always. Happy weekend!

  12. Thank you for this. You may have just changed my view of my own chosen career path. One of the things which has been permanently holding me back is the worry that what I do isn’t good enough, or isn’t polished enough. But somehow while I read this something clicked and I realised that somewhere deep in the back of my mind a little voice is tacking “compared to…” on to the end.

    I truly honestly did not realise that I was doing it until tonight. :-) Thank you.

  13. Excessive self-criticism and comparison with others caused me to drop each project I had in the past. I’ve always felt demotivated, thinking I won’t even improve or progress as much as others did. It also discouraged me to seek new endeavours, thinking these will end due to that vicious habit. And the cycle goes on and on.

    Recently, I’ve started learning football. Contrary to what I’ve experienced before, being novice and relatively less skilled have not stopped me to play each weekend. I saw it as an opportunity to gain more play time and get more exposure with the ball. I started to think of what I can do with my very best versus what I can’t do yet. Healthy comparisons were also evident. With a very supportive group, football play days always become the better days for a beginner.

    I just hope it could ooze into some other aspects/endeavours I’m trying to build. Thanks for this post – I need to be always reminded of living in the present.

    And, glad to have discovered this webpage! I’ve just hit the RSS Feed button! :)

  14. I love the point of this post. But I gotta say. why such Hype on the medals. 99% of them are for finishing…and well you can finish in great time, or just kind of you know finish at a 20 mm pace. Yes, it matters that you finished, but really the amount of medals that people who call themselves runners have, really depends on their pocketbook these days, rather than their skill.

  15. Oh my gosh, Matt, I just stumbled upon this post at EXACTLY the right time. Over the past few days I’ve read some very inspiring articles about some incredible women, Alexa von Tobel (30 year old founder of Learnvest) and Kat Cole (34 year old CEO of Cinnabon). And at first I felt so awe struck, so inspired. But then… I started to feel inadequate. These girls are around my age and are already running multi-million dollar companies, and here I am still in school. This reminder not to compare my beginning to someone else’s middle is a pearl of wisdom that I’ll carry forward with me. Thank you!

  16. Just saw your re-post on twitter. I just want to thank you for this! It really made my day.
    You’re right about never being satisfied if we continue to compare ourselves with other peoples’ middle. I’ve been in this situation for hundreds of times in the past! I always say to myself that I’m still not good enough or I still lack a lot of things in me. Because of this, I never had the chance to appreciate every inch of success that I earned to get where I am at that instant. We encounter a lot of “victories” in life without our own consciousness actually. They are worth realizing and appreciating to say to ourselves that we have achieved something, only to be plagued by the thought of not doing enough. I realized that at the end of the day, it’s still best to be the best version of you than to be a second rate version of somebody else.

    Once again, thank you for this post! May you continue to inspire more people.

    Have a nice day! :D

    PS: Your post is already cemented in my head so that I wont forget them. :D

  17. Hey Matt. Late response I know but just came across this whilst doing some research. I really like the article. Like many others I was conditioned as a child to believe I was not good enough primarily by my parent’s constant comparison of my efforts to those who were doing better. I realized a long time ago how this has impacted on my life but still struggle with “not good enough” issues in some aspects of my life.
    I hope your article has helped those readers who have a tendency to compare themselves with others and also those parents who think they are helping their kids to do better by reminding them how much better their peers are doing. Great post. Thanks :)

  18. “Wherever you are in life with whatever you’re doing – you’re going to be ahead of some and behind others.”

    Need to remember this! Every moment is so precious and shouldn’t be spent in self-loathing : ) Great post man!

  19. I leave a response each time I appreciate a article on a site or I have something to add to the conversation.
    Usually it is a result of the fire communicated in
    the article I browsed. And on this article Never Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else

  20. Matt!
    Thanks for this awesome post!!! I really needed it just today. I have been receiving your emails for a long time now- almost 7 months or so I believe- and I’ve read your articles time and again, but this one hit the nail on the head today. I JUST launched my first blog two weeks ago and although my accomplishment was celebrated by others- friends, supporters, community- it was hard for me to just look at it and be proud! I launched!! It’s just the beginning. I just kept thinking how bad my site was still compared to other bloggers (who have been at it for years!) How crazy is that…. anyhow, thanks again. I’ll be sure to celebrate my achievements one at a time~
    -Jesicka

  21. I’ve been comparing myself to a lot of people these past few weeks. I went to WDS this year and saw and met so many amazing people (I saw you were there! So cool! Would have definitely tried to connect if I’d known!). A lot of people have businesses, successful blogs, or have published books…and I’m struggling to get an idea of where I fit. This is definitely a timeless post and I appreciate you writing it. It’s a great reminder that everyone starts as a beginner.

  22. Hey Matt such an inspiring post, those words hit me big time. It’s my first time here. Well, I enjoyed reading most of your post here and somewhat i feel like I should’ve thanked you for that, it’s like an eye opener to me that i should enjoy the moment i have and not to compare myself to others. I had the same feelings every time i went on my social networking sites and see other peoples accomplishment. Now those things should motivate and not to distract me heading to my own race in life. Thanks :)

  23. A fantastic time Saturday night. We surprised my parents and they were thriled when they got there..Thanks! I used to be instructed by the photo booth person that footage would be online. Where are they?

  24. Hi there!
    Others have voiced my confusion above, but it’s nice sometimes to add on the melee. I have been signed up since the middle of January, but have three letters. They’re terrific letters! But similarly, I’d like to know if this is just the process from the dust settling or if this is to be expected?
    Thanks!

  25. This post is pure gold!

    Thanks for writing this, Matt. When I read this kind of insightful writing, I tend to compare my writing and see whether it’s insightful too.

    I guess I still have the habit of comparing to someone’s middle AND top.

    Thanks for the post.

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