A few weeks ago I was flying home from a conference for women physicians where I had been a speaker. I had more than met my goals, but I was still doubting myself. Why? I was feeling self-doubt as a physician, and comparing my workshop to the polished delivery of the keynote speaker.

According to Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*, I was falling victim to the “tyranny of exceptionalism”. We are flooded with stories about the truly extraordinary all day long. The extremes get all the publicity, so we believe being extraordinary is normal. Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. No wonder we experience self-doubt!

Physicians Feel the Constant Pressure to be Something Amazing

For women physicians, there is the added social expectation to be an extraordinary mother, spouse, and friend. Who really has the bandwidth to become exceptional at everything?

You may be exceptional at one thing, but the chances are you’re average or below average at something else. If we’re not okay with being average in some areas of life, we risk experiencing self-doubt and even shame.

Comparing yourself to others is normal. We may not stop measuring ourselves against others anytime soon. The ticket to emotional health and resilience is to decide which yardstick to use. Mark Manson makes the distinction between good values and bad values to measure success.

Good values are socially constructive, achieved internally and controllable. I had set two goals as a speaker: to be present and to use my experience to help others apply the principles to their situation. I had control over these goals. There was no external comparison and they were in service to my workshop participants.

Bad values are socially destructive, not controllable, and rely on external events. If your yardstick is material success, not only will you find someone with more stuff, but one day you’ll be lonely. Comparing myself to the keynote speaker, an external event I could control, was also a superficial comparison. Our objectives were different.

Not expecting ourselves to be extraordinary at everything frees us up to be amazing where it matters. The next time you are feeling self-doubt about your results, check for a comparison. How will you measure your life?

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