We Are Farther Along Than We Think
Something many of us, women especially I think, have trouble with is a healthy relationship to our successes. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like we’re not good enough, especially when comparing our achievements (or relative lack thereof) to those around us, in real life or in our online communities. It’s easy to look at the progress of others who we work with, grew up with, see out on the streets or on our Instagram feeds and not feel like we should, could, ought to be more than what we are.
This week marks my seventh Trailversary of the Appalachian Trail. That day when my dad and I completed our 2,181-mile hike and summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine was both a celebration, and a relief. What seemed at the time like a welcome end to a very long test of endurance was actually just the beginning of a whole new way of looking at life and how to overcome challenges. To this day I look to the lessons I learned on trail to aid my mindset when overcoming adversities in the real world.
It was in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, shortly past the halfway point of my 6-month trek on the AT, when I started meeting hikers who had begun their thru-hikes a month or more after I did and yet we had arrived at the same hiker hostel on the same day. It took me three months to get to the infamous Doyle Hotel, while it had only taken them two. Further up trail, at Lakes of the Clouds Hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I was meeting fellow northbound hikers who had begun their journeys a whole two months after I had. A quick check of the math and I realized they were covering nearly twice the amount of ground than me on the daily.
While I knew deep down it was certainly not a race out there, I couldn’t help but compare my progress to theirs. Here I was working my body as hard and as far a day as I could every day and it seemed like these guys were simply skipping their way to Maine. It was disheartening. Until I realized that the only metric I should use to compare myself to is myself. How am I doing relative to my own goals? Well, I had never attempted anything like that hike before and I had made it 1,850 miles on foot to the base of Mount Washington. I was doing great!
It’s sometimes hard to see our own successes, especially when playing that comparison game. I think about those moments on trail when I meet fellow photographers in NYC who are easily 10 - 15 years younger than me and who seemingly have been published in more places in one month than I have in my whole career. I start to get jealous, to doubt my own abilities, to somehow forget about all of the clients who come to me first when the job needs to get done. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to those around us, but it doesn’t do us any good.
The questions we should be asking ourselves are am I making forward progress? Am I doing something I am passionate about? Am I satisfied with how I feel at the end of a long day on trail or I am killing myself to keep up with someone else’s idea of what hiker-speed should be? We all started from different lots in life and we’re all headed to different destinations. When we find ourselves traveling along the same path for a bit with another fellow human, perhaps we should look to learn something from their experience instead of looking down at ourselves.