Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy

I saw this quote today and I’ve seen it several times before today but I also got this email from a student today:

“Hey Mrs. O, sorry I missed the rewrite chance for my math.  I don’t think I’ll do it.  I’m not as smart as other people in the class anyways.  But thanks for the extra math help this week.”

Oh… my heart out……

I’m a runner.  I’m not a fast runner but I’m a runner.  I even have a running coach who plans my programs, motivates me, and is always there for even my non-running needs.  And last year when I ran in the same race as her we crossed the finish line only a minute apart.

Except she had just finished running 10 km and I had just finished running 5.

If I was to compare myself to her and let that be the marker I judge myself by I would have quit running months ago.  If I compared myself to my friends I would have quit running months ago.  If I compared myself to the other racers in the group I would have quit running months ago.

I only compare myself to myself.  And I couldn’t be happier.  Today I ran for 45 minutes solid without a single walking break.  My treadmill claims I ran 4.12 miles.  Ten months ago I had just started interval training and was running for one minute and walking for four.  I thought I was going to die.  My whole goal at the time was to be able to hit 4/1 intervals without keeling over in a heart attack.  Look at me go now.  4/1 has become 45/1.

It took me 43 minutes to complete my first 5km race.  By the mid fall I was running it at 38 minutes.  To strip 5 minutes off a 5km run time in a mere three months had my coach over the moon happy for me.  I was happy for me too.  I could have focused on the fact that I was 86/95 runners in my age category.  I could have focused on the fact that I was 349/432 runners.  But I didn’t because you know what?  It just doesn’t matter.  Compared to how I was running before, I was kicking butt.  And I celebrated!

Comparison is the thief of joy and we have many joyless students in our schools.  They look at all the others and think, “I’ll never get the top mark so why bother trying?”

But every once in awhile I see that kid.  The kid who gets his assignment back and smiles to himself quietly because he passed.  It might have been “just a pass” to an outsider but three months ago even that seemed like it was out of reach to him.  And he doesn’t care that it isn’t the top mark, he only cares that his hard work has paid off.  And I will cheer for him.  And I will celebrate.

If I could get one thing across to my students it would be this….the only person you are ever competing against is yourself.  Can you be better than you were the last time?  It’s the only question that ever really counts.


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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