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The Unexpected Lesson

It was a Saturday morning, and I was joining my local yoga class. We had been meeting for a few months, and I enjoyed the small class size, the short commute, and the chance to brush up and build my skills. The teacher was excellent. I loved how she talked through the class and guided us in the poses. The world outside those yoga walls were a distant thought.

Then came the moment when the unexpected happened. Our teacher asked us to do the crow pose. Not a pose I’d mastered, nor one I particularly enjoyed, but I tried, nonetheless. When most of us fell over, unable to do the pose, we looked to fellow classmates to see how they fared. Were they able to do it?  Are there arms stronger than mine?  Are they in superior shape? Do they know something I don’t know?

It was then her words rang out with clarity.

“It’s okay to look to others for inspiration, but not for comparison.”

This was the unexpected.  A life lesson right there for the taking in my Saturday morning yoga class. I was riveted as I rolled it over and over in my mind. How simple and yet how profound.

How many times, in my coaching work or leadership classes, do I hear individuals comparing themselves to others? It comes in the form of the imposter syndrome, the need to keep up with others’ expectations, losing out to someone else who received the promotion, not thinking you have the qualifications to apply for the job or believing you don’t belong.

We often look to others and compare, even now during the Covid-19 pandemic. My colleagues look better on video than I do. My neighbor is cleaning closets and organizing photos. Am I doing this shelter in place thing right?  I’m not learning a second language, walking miles every day or posting the right inspirational messages on FaceBook. How can others be so positive when there is so much complexity and so many big problems to solve? What am I doing wrong?

Since that yoga class, I have changed my perspective. When I meet someone who has more skill, more experience, a better way, or a more dynamic personality, I am happy for them. And, I’m happy for me because I know them and can learn from them if I choose. Their approach can inspire me. And, if I want to do what they are doing, then I can borrow inspiration from what they do. My toolkit has the potential to be more robust because I know them. I just need to decide whether that is something I want to pursue.

So, next time, you find yourself doing the “comparison thing” remember my yoga teacher’s wise words. And then ask yourself these questions:

  • What is this person doing that I find admirable and inspiring?
  • Why did I pay attention to this? What is the message for me?
  • Is this something I’d like to be developing in myself?

If the answer is yes, it points you to your next step. Reach out to the person and tell them about your insights and pick their brain to see how you might follow in their footsteps.  Next, try it out in your own work and life.  See what happens.

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