If you've spent much time on social media, you've likely seen someone post the quote "Comparison is the thief of joy."
There's a lot of truth to this quote, but I think there is more to the story.
I think you could also say "Comparison is the mother of performance."
Here's what I mean...
A few years back a friend of mine talked me into doing a century ride. I didn't even own a bicycle at the time, but it was a fund raiser for a good cause (Young Life), so I said "Sure! I do CrossFit. Of course I can ride 100 miles!"
My friend didn't want me to die a slow painful death, so he talked me into doing a few training rides leading up to the event, and I quickly noticed something.
I was terrible at cycling.
We would join group rides, and I would sit in the back of the group listening to the other cyclists discuss their work, the weather, and their families while I tried not to let everyone notice that I was throwing up in my mouth.
Week after week they tortured me, and week after week I was unable to keep up.
I would hope for something like a road closure to cut our ride short, an equipment malfunction so I could catch my breath, or a meteor strike to put me out of my misery.
Unfortunately each week ended the same way. I would get dropped from the main group, and then pull up SEVERAL minutes after the ride ended looking (and feeling) like I needed medical attention.
Comparing myself to the rest of group, and striving to keep up with them showed me that I had a LOT of work to do.
Fast forward a couple of months...
It's the day of the event. I've had 2 hours of sleep. I'm the worst cyclist on the planet, and I'm about to ride 100 miles.
Then the craziest thing happened. I was...passing people...Like...lots of people. We came to the first (and worst) climb...and I passed more people!
Here's my point.
Comparing myself to the other cyclists in my town helped me understand what was possible. It helped me be honest with myself about what I was capable of, and it probably kept me from finishing the century ride in the back of an ambulance.
There's no way I would have been able to perform as well as I did during the century ride if I would have trained alone.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still a terrible cyclist, but comparison helped me perform at a higher level. Not because of my ego, and not because I wanted to be the best, but because I could see that my effort could eventually produce this amazing skill that they had, and I didn't.
Sure, comparison can lead us into some very ugly places.
It can lead people to take steroids. It's why we buy cars, houses, and clothes we can't afford with money we don't have. It's why we look in the mirror, and have the audacity to be critical of our wonderfully made bodies.
On the other hand, it's possible to compare ourselves to people who are healthy (physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually) as a way to know how high we can climb under the right conditions. When we have others to emulate, we can begin to risk hoping, striving, and planning for a better result.
I believe we can use community, competition, and yes, even comparison to spur us on to greater things while keeping our joy placed firmly in our hearts.
Granted, it's a bit of a balancing act to indulge in comparison without slipping into jealousy, but I think that tension can help us grow, learn, and affect the world around us in wonderful ways.
See you on the whiteboard!
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P.S. I may not be a great cyclist, but I definitely have the coolest jump rope in the room at the gym. Who's the clear winner here? :)
Click below to design your very own custom speed rope!
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