Imagine you and your dearest friend are asked to perform an experiment. In the experiment, you and the friend are asked to write responses as prompts are given to you. The first prompt is to list things that YOU have done in your own life that were brave, impressive or that you consider to be notable achievements. You and your friend are then given ample time to consider the topic, ponder your lives and write honestly.
After completing your responses to the first prompt, you are then asked to list things that YOUR FRIEND has done in his/her life that you found brave, impressive or that YOU consider to have be notable achievements. Following your consideration and writing, you are then asked to share both sets of responses with your friend.
I have little doubt that the lists written about your own lives will be shorter. The things that we tend to consider achievements differ greatly when considering ourselves and others. We have higher standards for ourselves. We expect more and approve less. My guess is that’s a reflection of discounting emotions when calculating the paths we have taken. We look at our own accomplishments as a bullet-point list for a resume. Would each item pass a rigorous logic check? However, when considering what others have achieved, we look at their lives surrounding their decisions. We recognize battles that cannot be itemized on paper or tucked neatly into spreadsheet boxes.
Unfortunately, I have no studies to back up my theories. This is purely anecdotal and gathered from my own experience, but given conversations I’ve had, and heard, it likely rings true for more people than not.
Achievements and accomplishments are on my mind because lately I’ve been feeling more and more like I’m just about to do something big. I’m not certain what it is, nor do I truly know whether it’s something I will do or discover or simply be a part of. Then I begin to think about the feeling, itself.
When I was young, I believed I would do something big. Something important. For a long time I was convinced that I would be famous, although the reason for the fame wasn’t clear. However, that feeling was all about an end result. It seemed like at some point in my life, some THING would be done.
Recently, very recently, the feeling is like walking towards a precipice. Over the edge is this wonderful, amazing Thing, and I’m about to see it, find it, and jump wholeheartedly into it. The closer I get, the more excited I am. The idea of accomplishing something, creating something of which I’m proud, working towards something that others can see and say, “she really did that,” is so appealing.
But perhaps that’s because, if you ask me, I won’t say I’ve done anything truly notable in my life thus far.
I haven’t moved across the globe to follow true love. I haven’t created a massively successful blog. I haven’t devoted my entire life to an obscure art that is simultaneously beautiful and yet also exposes the ugliness of how women are treated in society. I haven’t worked two jobs while attending graduate school because I have a long-term business plan. I haven’t tirelessly followed a passion for music and built my life around finding ways to make money while making that music. I haven’t struggled to pay rent in a tiny apartment in New York while catering and auditioning for every play that I could. I haven’t built a successful business. I haven’t completed marathons, triathlons, or run in the Boston Marathon. I haven’t broken gender barriers in the wrestling world. I’ve never opened a children’s bookstore, simply out of my pure and true love of books, that became a local treasure. I’ve never taken the stage, in front of thousands, to sing.
To be clear, I know the people above. Each of them. These people exist, are people I grew up with, am friends with or raised me.
Then I wonder, do they have any idea what they’ve achieved? Or are they also just looking forward to the next Thing, or thinking that they haven’t done THE Thing quite yet?
While it’s hard for me to follow my own advice, I’m learning that – in so many ways – it’s important to treat yourself as your best friend would treat you. See yourself as they see you. Recognize how brave and impressive you are, and admire all the things you’ve already achieved. If that’s hard to do, go ahead and ask your friend. That’s kind-of what they’re there for. To remind you who you are, and how wonderful you are, when you forget.
You are brave, and we are all impressed. You have accomplished so much just to get here. I hope you remember that.