I know a few engineers who get down on themselves for not being part of certain online networking conversations or not being part of particular slack groups. I like to be reasonably transparent with my friends, so it’s been humbling to have folks be transparent in kind and share that struggle with me.
The thing is that I struggle with that sometimes, too. Does that sound weird? I get invited to conferences in California, get my blog posts shared all over the internet, get paid by some to write for them, have something around 2500 Twitter followers, and had the opportunity to be part of several technology podcasts over the last few years. Why would I get down on myself, too?
The reason is that we love to compare ourselves to others. Furthermore, we love to compare ourselves to others in areas we care about. I may esteem someone very highly because of how they’ve built themselves up in the gym. Because weightlifting is a hobby of mine, I tend to compare myself to anyone bigger and feel less as a result. I don’t, however, compare myself to professional clarinet players because playing the clarinet is not something I care about. However, I do care about our networking community.
I know there are people with thousands upon thousands more Twitter followers, a tremendously larger body of written work, and accolades from all over the internet on how insightful they are in the technology industry. But here’s the thing: there’s always someone better.
In spite of what our culture preaches to us these days, I know I can’t be the best in every area. I’m never going to look like a professional bodybuilder because I don’t spend 5 hours a day in the gym and don’t take drugs. I will never be the best in that area.
I’m never going to be the best writer because I don’t spend all day honing my craft and working with editors. I may be a decent writer, but I’ll never be another Shakespeare.
I’m probably never going to be in a position like the most well-known influencers in the networking industry because I don’t write blogs, create podcasts, and work on my brand as a full-time job. Of course I can make progress, but I just don’t have the same amount of time and talent.
The few friends I mentioned earlier look at me as in that inner circle because, from their perspective, they’re not in it. I look at other inner circles that I’m not in and feel the same way.
An important thing to remember is that not being the best is OK.
Comparing ourselves to others may be a natural part of our human condition, but I think it’s foolish. Yes, I believe in healthy competition in many areas of life, but when comparing ourselves to others becomes detrimental to our attitudes and our relationships, we’re on a dangerous road.
I can recognize that someone wrote a phenomenal blog post, and I can acknowledge that someone has thousands more Twitter followers than me. But there’s a big difference between recognizing differences and being jealous.
What I preach to myself is that the most meaningful thing I can do is simply be consistent with doing a great job. What I mean by that is keep my head down, maintain a positive attitude, be a great engineer for my company, and keep contributing to the community when I can. After that, let the chips fall where they may.
I grant that it isn’t easy to just “let the chips fall where they may.” That requires discipline and self-control – no easy task for many of us.
Furthermore, some may not have this struggle. I know we all have unique experiences and see the world through our own eyes. But I do believe that deep down, we have so much more in common than we readily admit.
For me, I feel I’ve reached a healthier balance between plugging away in the routine and striving to reach new goals – both professionally and in the networking community. Maybe it’s because of my age, and maybe it’s because my family requires more from me each year that passes.
For whatever the reason, I find comfort and quiet in keeping my head down, trying to maintain a decent attitude, being a solid engineer for my company, and contributing to the community when I can. After that, it’s out of my hands anyway.