How to stop comparing yourself to others and live your own life
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Recently I was invited to a twenty-year reunion of former investment banking colleagues in London. I’d been out of that business for two decades. The organiser had been a junior on our team at the time, but his on-line biography revealed a meteoric rise since. My imagination conjured up wealthy over-achievers bragging about their high-flying careers and country houses.
I almost pressed ‘Delete’ but went to discuss it with my mentor.
‘I know I chose a different path,’ I said, ‘but I feel like a failure with these guys.’
‘Who is judging your life?’ he asked.
I felt I was my harshest critic.
‘No, it’s your Panel of Judges,’ he replied. ‘Imagine there’s a group of people in your head assessing you all the time. Every so often they hold up their scores, like judges at a figure-skating competition. Except they're not assessing your skating, They're judging your life.’
This resonated. I’d always striven to put on a good look to others. But who?
Firstly, there was my long-dead father whose approval I still sought. There were also some ludicrously successful men I knew in my twenties, including an aristocrat who became a best-selling author, a top investment banker and a famous journalist.
‘You’ve always tried to impress these people,’ continued my mentor, ‘except you haven’t seen them for thirty years or more. They never think about you.’
This was great mentoring.
I decided to attend the reunion but had a wobble when I compared the hotels where some people stayed to my university dormitory. And I cringed as I compared my dated suit to everyone’s chic casual attire. Yet those doubts evaporated when I was warmly greeted by former colleagues. No one bragged. A number shared about surviving illnesses and tragedy. Some thanked me for having been a compassionate leader. Our former boss acknowledged my contribution. Everyone left feeling good about themselves. For many, those years had been the best of their careers. Walking back to the dorm in the early hours, I felt deeply known and appreciated.
As a mentor, I’ve started talk to others about the Panel of Judges. A very successful friend calls it his Board of Directors.
‘My deceased mother is still the chairperson! There’s also a lady from twenty years ago who told me I was so talented I’d be on the cover of a magazine. Ever since I’ve worried about living up to that!’
Then he added something we could all learn from: ‘Maybe I can let them go.’