Comparing other people’s achievements to your own can make you feel small and unimportant. We’re bombarded with images of celebrities and the minute details of their lives that it is hard not to feel somehow left behind.
I once read an article about a young doctor who, after leaving the Navy, established four hospitals and several medical clinics in Laos during the Viet Nam war. He worked under primitive conditions in the jungle, with limited facilities, treating the local people for all sorts of medical problems and still managed to write three best-selling books. He was stricken with cancer, and when he returned temporarily to the U.S. for treatments, he still managed to raise money for his hospitals and clinics. He died a day after his 34th birthday.
I was 34 when I read that article, and for some time afterward I kept seeing myself as having failed to do anything important with my life. It was only after a lot of reflection that I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, or a nuclear physicist, award winning actor, Olympic athlete, or a rock star. When I looked back at the choices I’d made—to marry a good man, mother my children and teach and write part-time—I knew I was exactly who I was born to be. My duties had no glamour attached to them—staying up at night with a sick child, running a household on a limited budget, moving from state to state for reasons beyond my control, teaching my children to be good people, helping my students and maybe writing a decent piece when I had the time. I loved what I was doing and I loved my life, even though it may not seem important to the world at large.
Awards and recognition won’t make you happy if you aren’t being the person you were meant to be.
Here’s an exercise to boost your self-esteem: Make a list of all the things you do at home, in your job, or for others (including pets) and realize how it would affect other people if you suddenly weren’t there. Watch the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life!
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.