I was a chubby 3 year old tap dancing to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the world was perfect. I was on a stage in line with a handful of girls all in leotards dancing to the music as we each heard it and no one felt judged. I imagine we all felt pride in our new skill of tapping and loved the way our soft little bodies looked in our sequins unitards. The common factor might be that we weren’t focusing on how we were measuring up. No one had told us that one could be better than another because we were only 3 after all.
Fast forward a couple decades and you have a different story.
Finding a career you love and thriving in it can feel like a tiresome race. Being competitive in your industry while still being supportive of your friends and colleagues, while challenging often contributes to your own advancement. Cultivating a supportive attitude for others celebrating their success actually benefits you. Let me explain.
Today American culture values the individual over the collective. On the other hand, Eastern cultures champion the group and team success. In Japan acing your exams and winning academic awards is not a celebration if the rest of your class is failing. Your success often depends on bringing your teammates with you. This collective mindset breeds healthy competition and promotes group success.
Let’s get introspective and take a look at our competitive nature. Ask yourself these questions as it pertains to your experience with competition:
•What thoughts come to mind when other’s succeed?
•What story do you tell yourself?
•Do negative thoughts arise if so what are they?
•What past experiences encourage these negative thoughts?
Struggling with feelings of self-worth when a colleague receives a promotion is common. Negative thoughts might arise and you may feel left behind, but that’s just the wrong story. We are telling ourselves the wrong story and believing it. Yes it may be true; you were hoping for that role, opportunity or promotion and maybe it should have been given to you. It is not true that you are lesser; it doesn’t define you. Our brains can get addicted to achievement and success. Because of social media and oversharing our brains have been conditioned to need constant affirmation. This rewireing of the brain can make it very hard to value your own “job well done” because we’re inundated with what’s going on in everyone else’s life. 10 years ago you wouldn’t necessarily know that Jenny from your freshman English class got her book published. Let’s give ourselves some grace here and learn how to “be” in this new and changing culture without beating ourselves up for not measuring up.
Our brains our pretty fabulous! Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the ability of your brain to reorganize itself. The fact that our brains can change both physically and functionally, throughout our lives due to environment, behavior, thinking, and emotions is seriously amazing. This puts a lot of power back into our hands. The way you feel about yourself in your work and or career is generally up to you. You can choose to compete with others and think less of yourself when you’re not first or you can chose to look at things differently. We can change the negative stories in 3 ways:
- Awareness: Becoming aware when you are thinking negative thoughts. The more you label negative thinking as just that, “negative” the more you are able to stop yourself from going down that painful and frankly unproductive road.
- Reframe: Change the negative thought to a more realistic one. For example, your friend got the role in the play you wanted and you were given the part of a lesser role. Thinking that they are better than you is simply not true. A better thought would be, maybe that person is better suited for the role and or what can I learn from them that they are doing well, or maybe I am right where I should be.
- Meditation: Meditation is the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing while not overreacting to what’s going on around us. This practice has been the most helpful in my own life when it comes to grounding and centering myself when I lose track of what matters or I dwell to much on someone else’s career. I’ve found apps like “The Mediation Studio” to be extremely helpful in learning the art of this practice while taking the guess work out of mediation.
When negative thoughts arise or you notice your feelings of self-worth take a dip, face the discomfort and practice celebrating other’s successes. Of course this is far easier said than done. What you gain from being supportive is being a part of something bigger than yourself and you’ll grow in your own skills by learning from others who are doing well.
Finally I’ll just put it as plain as my own therapist put it to me, “It’s not always about you.” Seriously my therapist said this to me and my jaw dropped, a lightbulb in my brain went on and I laughed at the profound simplicity of it. We don’t know everything about everyone else’s story and we can’t predict the future. We can “stay in our own lanes” and focus on where we’ve been, where we’re going and what we’re working on. I heard it once said that if you can see the rungs of the latter going up, it’s not your latter to climb…meaning it’s okay to not see the path in front of you clearly and to learn from your own experiences. Which brings me back to that line of adorable doughy 3 year olds tapping to the beat of their own drums…we can learn a lot from our 3 year old selves. Focus on you, feel good about you and what you’re doing in life and look at the person next to you with a big thumbs up because we all can be sparkling stars on the great big stage of life.