Everyone else is better than you

At the Founders Book Fair in Nelson I saw a table constructed of The Da Vinci Code paperbacks.

It struck me as a novel use of an airport thriller. The Da Vinci Code is a functional page-turner but it makes an even better coffee table.

I don’t recall enjoying The Da Vinci Code a whole lot. Still, I wouldn’t mind having written it myself if it meant I could now be an internationally successful author.

What is success anyway? The slippery notion of success is a spectre that haunts me as a writer.

I was asked to speak at a writers’ retreat in Nelson over Queen’s Birthday Weekend. That might be considered a nod of success. I confess to milking it a bit on the flight. “I am a writer being flown down to Nelson to speak to other writers. That’s because I am a writer, you see. Excuse me while I type some writer notes on my Macbook Air.”

Speaking to my fellow writers about the elusiveness of success, I suggested that “everyone else is a better writer than you”.

That’s me at my motivational best. But it is true across all disciplines: other people will always appear to be better, more interesting and more successful than you. It is something we have to get over – unless we want to drive ourselves a little bit mad.

Toward the end of the writers’ retreat a guy called Steve read out something wonderful that he had been quietly working on all weekend. We were collectively overjoyed that he was able to share such a great piece of writing. I wished that I had written it myself.

People are brilliant, aren’t they? I am in awe of what other people can do. Even on my best day there will be someone else producing better work than me.

No, I take that back. “Better” is not quite the right word. The work that other people produce is not necessarily better; it is simply different.

It is important to make peace with that difference. Other people are not me and I am not other people. We each contribute our own vital piece of colour to the grand patchwork of human creativity.

Some years ago my friends moved their family to China. I thought, “How brave and interesting. I have never lived overseas. I must not be very interesting at all. I just live in Tauranga.”

That word “just” is a whimpering little device that should be eliminated wherever possible. If you drop the word “just” from most sentences you will find an affirmation instead of an apology.

I live in Tauranga. I am who I am. I do what I do. There is no “just” about it.

Besides, I once moved to Invercargill to live. That is equally as interesting as moving to China.

I am still learning how to appreciate the present moment rather than forever fidgeting about things I hope are over the horizon.

That doesn’t mean I don’t need a plan for where I’m headed. It is about having the confidence to enjoy offering my best without feeling intimidated by what I see other people achieving.

My wife often has to remind me that I get to write things that lots of people read every week. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

I was once told of a family that reads the Bible at the breakfast table most mornings except for Fridays. On Fridays, the family reads my column together instead.

Well, if that’s one way to measure success I’ll take it.

 First published in Bay of Plenty Times 5 June 2015. Reproduced with permission.