I recently attended a talent show–put on by med students. As I sat there watching my classmates a voice beside me echoed the sentiments in my head when she whispered:
“I hate him, he’s good at everything.”
Of course, neither of us hates him; he’s an excellent friend and classmate. I think we hate ourselves for not being good at everything, especially because our situations are similar in many ways.
We are both in medical school, spending roughly similar time in lectures and studying. We both own guitars, but mine collects dust while he makes time to play his. And now he is on stage receiving thunderous applause while I sit in the balcony trying to reconcile feelings of discomfort/jealousy/self-loathing.
I usually try two things:
1) They must suck at something, I try to figure out what that is. Is it their people skills? Their social life? Their athletic ability? Their volunteering involvement? I look for the catch. Increasingly, I can’t seem to find one.
2) Forget them. I’m good at things too. I bet people are jealous of me. What could they be jealous of me for? I list my skills and strengths. I feel a little bit better.
The show ends. I smile, go home, the feeling fades, and my guitar stays in its corner.
The problem is underlying both of these responses is the “ladder mentality”: the idea that life is a ladder and there are people who are ahead of you and people who are behind you. In response one, I try to knock down the person ahead of me. In response two, I take solace in the fact that I’m ahead of others.
But life is not a ladder. It’s a flat map full of scribbles from our journey. We all started in a different place, took a different path, and are headed in different directions.
The talent show is just a moment inside a beautiful space, not a ladder climbing competition. Inside this space are people who are evidence of what they have lived. But in this moment there is no clue of before or after, of trajectory or history… just a collection of our individual scribbles meeting in unison to share. All I can do is be grateful for the many different worlds presenting themselves on stage and absorb the pieces of life that I will never get to live.
As for my guitar… I’ll get back to you on that.