If you like to cook, you’ll understand when creativity can improve a recipe and when creativity can go awry. I remember learning and observing when to use baking powder or baking soda and that they are in fact, not interchangeable without some adjustments, for instance. I’ve been thinking lately about these moments when I look to others for inspiration and walk away either feeling envious or feeling less than. It occurred to me recently as I perused LinkedIn, that sometimes I go in seeking a recipe and forget that what I really need, what I’m actually longing for, is inspiration. What I’m really craving is a sense of empowerment to remain committed to my authentic journey. I am a “recovering perfectionist” as Brene Brown has coined the term, and it takes constant work to keep myself in check and from getting in my own way to becoming my best and most authentic self. I can remind myself that we each have our own path and unique purpose to fulfill, I have a unique purpose and path, but sometimes, okay, often, I still trip over my own feet.
Last week, an article was delivered to my inbox from The Riveter entitled, “Professional Jealousy” and I was intrigued. So much of the article and the writer’s lens spoke to me. Oh, the time I have spent comparing myself and feeling like I was always in the wrong spot at the wrong time, always missing opportunities or worse, never worthy of opportunities.
I spent my twenties exploring, struggling to find a career path that felt right but that would also produce “success” as defined by the world. I’d had this unrealistic expectation as the first in my family to go to college, that going to Yale would set me on the path to success that would simply roll out before me. I spent my thirties following the “shoulds”, trying to become worthy of the Yale education I’d received, and trying to both pursue additional education to climb the career ladders while also building our family. I had both of my boys during an MBA program while also working full-time and then starting a business, trying to make up for lost time. My thirties were exhausting!
Finally, at 40, I am allowing myself to feel this sense of peace and resolve – I no longer need to chase, I can simply accept, allow, and create. I am choosing what I want to pursue in order to become who I wish to be, the work of art I wish to create. I spent all those years comparing myself to others and feeling badly about my own lack of “success” when what I wish I’d been doing was looking for creative inspiration and taking time to get curious to know the real stories that inspired or drove these women on their journey.
Liberating is the word that comes to mind in crossing this threshold. I feel empowered to look to these women I am privileged to know, I’ve worked with and for, I see on LinkedIn and in the news, and to get curious about what inspired them, as well as realistic about what they sacrificed along the way. I feel empowered now to leave the desire to compare and instead to take the inspiration to fuel me on my own authentic journey. I look to these women who are trailblazers and I remind myself of my own creative license to use my gifts to create and fulfill my own vision and journey, the journey I’ve chosen and not necessarily the one the world has told me I should follow.
Professional and personal jealousy are real, and they threaten to undermine our potential, our power to craft our own stories, and our ability to forge our own paths. Sure, maybe I could follow the path of someone else, let their footsteps be my guide, but is that what I really want, is that what I’m jealous of even? No, I’m more often jealous of women who were brave and bold enough to chase their own dreams.
“How could I be jealous of others who were different?” author Lyz Lenz quotes a fellow writer as she laments about comparing herself to others. And in her question is an important point, others are “different” so of course it would follow that their path would look different than mine.
With this in mind, I have been thinking about this line between looking to mentors and stories of successful women not as a comparison or a recipe, but to be more intentional about viewing them as inspiration to remain committed to my forging my own path and to be celebrated and applauded for the courage it likely took for these women to forge their paths. I have also found myself realizing that this courage and the accolades also involve sacrifice that isn’t always apparent.
I have been cultivating and benefiting from friendships and mentorships with people ahead of me on this journey. These relationships are such a great reminder of several things – 1. The years pass quickly whether I pay attention or keep lamenting, so I want to embrace this time and stop thinking I need to spend it chasing; 2. There is time. I am always convincing myself that I need to hurry up, but lately I’ve been noticing how many successful women are in their 40s and 50s when they hit their stride; 3. I will not miss out on an opportunity. If it is meant to be, it can wait until I am also ready. Timing is everything; 4. There is no “one way”! If anything, what I’ve noticed in looking on LinkedIn and reading stories and articles about successful women, and men, is that there is great diversity in what leads to success and there is also great diversity in how one defines success!
With that, I invite you, and myself, to settle in, and instead of focusing on the end goal or on others’ journeys, accolades, and definitions of success, to focus simply on the unique journey being forged before you at your own pace in whatever direction you choose, when the timing is right for you. You make the rules and can cut a new trail at any time. The path you’re on will teach you everything you need to know for your next step if you trust in the process and allow yourself to be inspired to continue on rather than getting lost in an attempt to follow the wrong path, someone else’s path.