“Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”
After 18 months of intensive work, my eight-year-old son earned his blue belt in karate. For a young wiggly boy who has difficulty maintaining the concentration (and stillness!) required by his Sensei, this was a huge accomplishment. He proudly put on his blue belt and moved up to a completely different class level. And then something unusual happened. He began wanting to avoid karate class. And then he shocked me with this announcement: “Maybe I should stop karate and do something else.”
Finally, last night, he told me what was wrong: he didn’t know the new skills. “The boys in the class all know the new hokei so well. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Having spent the last ten years translating all the unspoken things that men and boys are feeling inside, I heard what was underneath the surface: Everyone is doing better than I, and I can’t keep up. I’m embarrassed … I feel inadequate. And since feeling inadequate is by far the most painful feeling for a male, a guy may instinctively prefer to check out rather than risk feeling this way any longer.
But of course, this type of discouragement is not limited to men. How many times have I compared myself or my success to someone else’s — and felt privately jealous or like I am found wanting? How many times have you? Not long ago, many years of work and intense personal dedication culminated in my releasing a new venture and a new book in a new arena. With great hopes, I released it … and watched as it quietly deflated. Depressed, I watched others in the same arena expand their reach by leaps and bounds. What was wrong with what I did? Was I not cut out for this?
Sigh. Maybe I should stop going this direction and do something else.
Hm … sounds familiar. …
This morning, my friend and assistant Julie forwarded me a blog post she had read by Jon Acuff talking about this exact dynamic — and it floored me. Acuff is an accomplished author and loves speaking on stage, but one day in the unfamiliar format of radio on an interview with a supremely accomplished radio host, he was feeling inadequate. The producer told him to remember that this host had been perfecting his skills in radio for 17 years.
Acuff said he realized a very important truth. “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
I read those words and realized: there was my answer. And then I called my little boy over and read him the entire blog post. He went from squirming and anxious to pack his bag for school, to listening intently. He looked up at me and said, “That makes me feel good. I’m the only new kid in the blue belt class. But I won’t be for long.” And off he ran to school.
My heartfelt thanks from my son and me, Mr. Acuff. I’m the new kid right now, and it’s uncomfortable. But, God willing, I won’t be for long!