From Compare-Despair to Owning your Awesomeness

Have you ever had a conversation with someone you admire and walked away cringing about how you showed up? Let’s look at how compare-despair gets in the way of owning our awesomeness. I’ll wrap up with 4 tips you can apply immediately in your personal and professional life to feel better about how you navigate these conversations.

Listen to the 7-minute audio format of this blog or read the text version below.

Let’s start with a story. A few months ago, I’m at a workshop with another thought leader whose work I love.  I met her a few years ago at a conference where we were both speaking. Now, I’m doing some professional development and taking her workshop. She comes over one day at breakfast to catch up. With an eager smile she asks,

“How’s your book doing!?”

I could feel myself pause and pull my head back.  My face probably looked like I had seen a ghost.

“Uh, I don’t have a book.”

She responds, “Oh I thought you had written a book. Well, you have a TED talk right? That must be doing well!”

I thought, well it could have more views.

I say, “I could be promoting it more.”

I was flabbergasted because it’s not how I usually operate.  I was surprised to find myself not owning some of the best parts of myself — what I call Native Genius.

Two years ago when I first met her at a conference, I walked off stage after my talk and she touched my arm.

She paused, looked me right in the eye and said, “Awesome talk.” I realized she thought I was awesome then and still thinks I’m awesome.

So she was really just asking, “How’s your awesomeness?” To which I felt some twisted need to set her straight, “I’m not awesome.”

It was as if my words were spilling out without my consent. I was comparing myself to her and making myself lower. Compare-despair. My compare-despair was running the conversation. No matter how excited she was about my work, I couldn’t let it in because I was so stuck in my stance of, “I’m not awesome.” I judge myself because I haven’t already written a book. So whatever your aspirations are, compare-despair is likely to come up when you’re interacting with someone who is already living your aspiration or is somehow ahead of you on your path.

It’s hard for us to own our awesomeness, even when others think we are awesome, because we think we know the whole story and they don’t. And we better set them straight before we look like a fool. You know the drill.

Someone congratulates you on your promotion and you say, “Well, three other people also got promoted, it wasn’t just me.”

Imagine I see this thought leader in two or three years and she says, “Congratulations! I saw your book on New York Times Best Seller List.”

If I let my compare-despair respond, it would say something like, “Yeah but it was only for a month.” Here’s the seductive thing about compare-despair: you think that it will end when you achieve your aspiration, but it’s actually an endless cycle. The only way around it is to get at the vulnerability underneath it.

Let’s turn this around. Here are four tips for turning compare-despair into owning your awesomeness.

TIP 1. Do what Kristin Neff calls a self-compassion break.

This means taking a moment to treat yourself like you would a good friend. For example: Put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “Everyone feels less-than at times. This is my moment. It’s really vulnerable that she’s done things I deeply want to do. Yet I’m on my own path, with my own history, and my ways of moving forward.”

Acknowledging the real vulnerability allows your heart to soften, the emotion to pass more quickly and helps us get resourced again.

TIP 2. Use compare-despair as a kick in the patootie to take action on your aspirations.

Compare-despair can feel particularly terrible when we feel like we aren’t doing anything or enough on our aspiration. After my episode of compare-despair, I came up with a new way to take baby steps in my writing. Journal or talk to a friend about baby steps you could be doing, and do them.

TIP 3. Reframe the question, “How are you?” to “Tell me one thing you’re working on that you’re excited about.”

Then it’s much easier to answer. Here’s what this would have looked like in my recent story.

She asks, “How’s your book?”

I could have answered, “I don’t have a book yet — but there’s definitely a book in me. I’ve been teaching in different countries. Even over video conferences, teams come alive when they talk about their Native Genius. It’s gratifying to see teams around the world readily getting it and using it to be more productive and fulfilled.”

When you talk about what you’re excited about – no matter how small or insignificant you think it is – your eyes are bound to light up – and people will be able to see and feel your Native Genius, and that’s what they’ll remember.

TIP 4. Engage them as an equal human being.

Here’s what I mean . . . I could have said, “I love that you thought the book was already written. There’s a way in which some parts of the book already feel written inside me. Did it feel that way when you were writing your first book?”  Notice that when compare-despair isn’t running me, I can actually see her question as a compliment and I can engage her as an equal human being. People we admire have enough people fawning all over them. Why not engage with them as an equal, in a conversation we find interesting. They’ll also find it interesting and even refreshing.

People! We have to manage our compare-despair so it doesn’t speak for us. My friend, Vanessa Loder, was inspired by my reflections and writes about her experience and shares 5 more tips.  Let’s help each other show up with who we really are at our best.

And now I would love to hear from you. When’s the last time you had a conversation with someone you look up to? How did you own your awesomeness?

If you liked this blog, share it with your friends so we can lift each other up and help each other own our awesomeness.