The Least Inspiring Advice You’ll Ever Hear

The Least Inspiring Advice You’ll Ever Hear

“There will always be people who are smarter and more talented than you are.”

In terms of parental pep talks, this isn’t the stuff of inspiration.  My mom first said this to me when I was in junior high and feeling ‘less than.’  She could have taken a lot of angles to soothe her frizzy haired, slightly odd daughter, but instead she chose clear-eyed honesty. It didn’t do much for me in the moment, but has come to serve as somewhat of a mantra for me.  Rather than being dispiriting, it’s given me perspective, especially in times when I’ve stepped into a bigger pond and felt the discomfort of having my small world expanded.  When I first moved to NYC, a city that feeds on ambition and attracts the best, those words reminded me that the goal wasn’t to be better than someone else.  The goal was to be a better me

“The goal wasn’t to be better than someone else. The goal was to be a better me.” 

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Most recently, her words came back to me while I was on an 8-day vacation.  Like most Covid-era vacations, it was a last-minute mash-up of trains, too much driving, and a focus on connecting with people in my life rather than an exotic destination.
 
As I went from town-to-town and connected with different friends along the way, I allowed myself to really admire my friends.  Each of them inspired me in their own way.  Anne builds connection seemingly without effort.  Kara has done the research about…everything.  Todd does deep dives into political and social topics.  Nancy can see both sides of an issue and somehow can bridge the divide. 
 
I love that my friends inspire me to be a better person, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to just stop at admiration.  I went to comparison.  I came home slightly exhausted and overwhelmed by all the things I don’t know or do.  I silently vowed to re-jigger my life to make more room for podcasts, reading, cultural touchstones, friendships and to stop mispronouncing words (thanks to one slightly condescending friend of a friend who values ‘precision of language’).
 
After a good night’s sleep, I thought about my mom’s statement,
 
“There will always be people who are smarter…”
 
It reminded me that we’re probably living in too small of a world if we’re not being challenged by those around us.  There was nothing wrong with my renewed drive to better myself, but this was familiar territory.  I’ve often made lists of things I think I should know or learn, only to disappoint myself days later when I turn on Manifest instead of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. 

The answer isn’t about trying to “keep up” with all the smart and talented people in your life, it’s taking that inspiration and applying it to what matters to you
 
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Organizations are rife with opportunities for comparison.  Not one of my clients escapes the should’s, whether self-imposed, or imposed by their 360 feedback.  They constantly see their short-comings and berate themselves for not making time to take that executive ed class, read the ‘it’ leadership book or be as good at ___ is at ___.  They tell themselves that if they were more disciplined and had more time, they could be better. 
 
Meanwhile, they disregard their own golden ticket – that set of spectacularly unique qualities that is likely being underutilized within them.
 
When you find yourself beating yourself up for not being ‘good enough’ and feeling ‘less than,’ ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you comparing yourself to?

  • What is the implicit should embedded in that comparison?

  • What is the invisible ruler that you’re measuring yourself against?

  • What are you able to do effortlessly that you consistently under-value?

  • What gives you energy?

  • What is the highest value use of your time?

So as my brain continues to grapple with the should’s of self-improvement, my heart knows that time isn’t infinite.  I can no longer fool myself into thinking I can do it all.  Each choice I make, whether it’s for 10 minutes or 10 hours, has an opportunity cost.  The more time I spend trying to be like someone else, the less time I have to become more myself. 

“The more time I spend trying to be like someone else, the less time I have to become more myself.” 

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And if you don’t want to take it from me, perhaps the following quote often attributed to Henri Matisse will provide a final bit of perspective:
 
“It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.”
 
Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to paint like everyone else.

Starla Sireno is an NYC Executive Coach. She partners with leaders to more effectively navigate the complexities of their roles, increase their influence at all levels, and hone their interpersonal communication skills in order to become more impactful both internally and in client-facing roles. Inquire how you can work with Starla or her team.

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