Last year my family took a cooking class from an Italian chef during our family vacation. As you may know, cooking is not necessarily my family’s strong suit, but we were excited to learn and have the shared experience. The chef gave us a brief overview of our tasks and the menu before handing each of us a vegetable, a cutting board, and a very sharp knife.
The chef gave my mom a large pile of carrots, and he took the rest. Approximately two and a half minutes later, my mom sliced her finger… badly. When we asked her what happened, she said, “Well, I was watching the chef to see how he was chopping his carrots and…”
She kept slicing her carrots while becoming absorbed in how the chef was chopping his.
We all do this, don’t we? We get so caught up in what someone else is doing that we forget what is right in front of us — what we started doing in the first place. We have a goal or a project or a career in mind, and then we get distracted by someone else’s method or measure of success. We start comparing our way of doing things to theirs… and the next thing we know, we aren’t on track.
We sabotage our own goals because we thought what someone else was doing looked better.
My mom was probably doing just fine; she knew how to cut carrots — but she wanted to emulate what “successful” carrot-cutting looked like. She wanted to do better but, to do so, she was ignoring what was in front of her. There is nothing wrong with learning from others, but it becomes problematic when we ignore where we are, or what we originally wanted.
We chase so many things because we are told we should want them. Yet, we often find ourselves 50 yards down the track before we look around and realize we’ve lost sight of what we were chasing. We can try to mimic someone else’s success, but we must be careful to keep our own personal goals in mind and focus on what makes our contribution to the project special.
Comparison may be the thief of joy, but joy isn’t the only thing that we can lose.
If you are going to take a look at how the chef cuts his carrots, put down your knife while you do it. Set aside your own goals, look at how other people are performing or what they’re using as a barometer for success, then think about how you can learn from or use their expertise. Consider how it can inform what you want to do — from defining success, to choosing your ideal neighborhood, to creating, to parenting, to performing on the job, to setting up your day planner– but don’t lose sight of your own cutting board.
Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,