If you took another person’s strengths, and compared them with your weaknesses, how would you measure up?

During my undergraduate coursework, one of my courses required students to attend at least ten recitals or concerts each semester. On a Sunday evening in early November 2014, I walked the short distance from my dorm to the music department. I chose a seat by myself in the semi-packed recital hall, and the lights went down. A fellow choir member of mine took to the stage, beamed his contagious smile to the audience, and began his junior recital. 

His warm, larger than life voice, animated stage presence, and incredible preparedness held the attention of the recital hall for the entirety of his performance. This was the most memorable recital I attended in my four years at the University of North Dakota. While this recital ranks as one of the top 5 favorite recitals I attended, this recital also happened to be the final blow that finally broke this already struggling, sophomore music therapy student. The narrative I believed sounded like: “I am not good enough to do this. I don’t deserve to be here.” This was no one’s responsibility, but my own. Language holds power; the narrative you repeat to yourself eventually will hold truth to you. 

Following that Sunday, I took three days off from my classes. I was incredibly fortunate and thankful to have the instructors I did as many of them were aware of the importance of prioritizing mental health. After those three days, I arrived at the conclusion that I needed to drop my music degree, and pursue a path in social work rather than music therapy. I met with my advisor to discuss how to smoothly make this transition. As I sat down in her office, she looked at me and said, “I don’t want to talk about what classes you’ll be taking next semester. I want to know why you’re so damn hard on yourself.” As I depleted her stock of Kleenex, she shared with me the potential that her and other music faculty saw in me. I had very little capability of realizing this potential, because I compared myself to others. More specifically, I compared my deficits and weaknesses to the strengths of other music majors. 

So: If you took another person’s strengths, and compared them with your weaknesses, how would you measure up? And, more importantly, how good would it make you feel? 

When we compare ourselves to others, we more often than not compare their “best” with our average or below average. In the pursuit of being the best at everything, we fight to be better than them, and do what may be unnatural for us. Not only does this always lead to the realization that we cannot accomplish that feat, but it also carries the potential to send us into self-destructive spirals. Comparing ourselves to others concocts a recipe for discontentment, and turns our allies into enemies.

There is only one thing that you can do better than anyone else: being you. I know that sounds cliché, but it is true. When we experience this shift in attitude, our world begins to look brighter. Our focus changes from being placed on where we stand in relation to others, and is placed on our current capabilities and talents along with how we can improve. We are overall happier, free of the chains of inaccurate comparisons, and more mindful of our present. This does not serve as an excuse to ignore the guidance and thoughtful suggestions of those with more experience. Instead, it is a reminder to compare yourself to who you were yesterday, last month, last semester, and even last year. 

My short advice: try diligently to be aware of when you begin to compare yourself to others, and stop yourself. Replace thoughts of comparison with focusing on your capabilities, passions, support, and purpose. You are enough; life is enough. Stop comparing yourself to others. 

Morgan Nunberg, MT-BC/L