Why it’s not fair to compare yourself to others

I started replying to this post by the Inelegant Horse Rider and found that I had more to say than fitted politely into a comments box, so brought it back here to mull over.

I apologise if I’ve already ranted at you on this theme at some point, either in person or here. I have this vague feeling that I have… but anyway here’s the dialogue.


Everyman: I could be a great [rider/writer/person] if I … achieved A, wasn’t hampered by B and didn’t worry about C.

Logic: Yes. That’s true. So do that.

Everyman: I can’t do that. I’ve tried to do A and it’s really hard and I can’t quite get it, I have commitments to B and deep-seated psychological issues around C.

Logic: Well, assuming your statement is true, then if you can’t change A, B & C, you can’t be a great [rider/etc.]

Everyman: Well that upsets me.

Logic: Illogical, Captain.

Everyman: But I want to be a better [rider etc]

Logic: Then change A B and C.

Everyman: I can’t. I won’t. I don’t have the physical/mental capacity to do A, B is my life and C is my personality.

Logic: So you’re saying those things are more important to you than being a great rider?

Everyman: Maybe. Maybe it’s more important that I live my own life than that I try to ride as well as someone else who has a completely different body, life and mind. Maybe I have to understand that everyone’s different and just because someone else can do a thing doesn’t mean it’s fair to expect myself or anyone else to do it to the same standard. It doesn’t mean I can’t improve in my own ways, and achieve goals that are a great achievement for me. If I changed my life and my personality I might ride better but I wouldn’t be me any more. I have to be me first and foremost. If I can be a better me that’s great, but I still have to be me.



“I’m wonderful if you help me”


I read this phrase in an e-mail from a non-native English speaker to an international professional e-mail list to which I subscribe. It was clear in places that the writer of the e-mail was struggling to get her English to mean what she wanted it to and I have every respect for her efforts. I suspect this is a phrase that didn’t come across with quite the meaning she intended, but what a wonderful phrase she has created!

“I’m wonderful if you help me”

It has so much hopeful potential. It has much more confidence than the similar but unsure of itself variant, “If you help me I’m wonderful,” which shyly hopes for help but seems to expect disappointment. This phrase states the goal up front and follows through with an explanation of how to get there.

“I’m wonderful if you help me”

And how true it is. Is there anyone who can say they have achieved wonderfulness without any help at all? If there is, I suspect they may be lying or forgetful. In any area in which I can be thought to be wonderful I have got there because I had help. As a fiercely independent type sometimes accused of not suffering fools gladly, I sometimes need to be reminded that everyone, including me, needs help to be wonderful. We can’t get there alone, but I’m wonderful if you help me.

Why my 30s are going to be great

A few months ago an acquaintance, a father in his mid/late 30s, was sighing over his age and reflecting that the best part of his life was behind him. When he was younger he believed that he could do anything, be anything, but now he feels his potential is gone and his dreams are restricted by his age. This could not be further from the way I feel.

Until the last few years I have lived my life believing I could not do much, could not achieve much. Now the world is opening up to me. I want riding lessons? I’ve got them and I’m riding. I want to buy something big? I can save and buy it. I want to go somewhere? I can drive there or buy a plane ticket. There’s plenty of stuff I don’t want to do, but I do pretty much believe I can do or get anything I want. I guess this is helped by not wanting the moon, but I believe that most people can achieve most things most of the time.

If you want to prioritise a goal, I think you can usually make it happen, although you need to beware of the cost. All things have a cost, be it money, time, emotion, stress or all of the above. The bigger the thing you’re trying to do, the higher the cost you’ll have to pay. And some costs will be too high. There’s only so much energy you can put into something without compromising your health and happiness; only so much money you can put in without compromising your home and necessities like food and warmth.

Costs aside, I feel that for the first time in my life I could do anything I set my mind to. I don’t particularly want to run a marathon, learn Chinese or relocate, but I know if I made the decision and put the effort in I could do any of those things. Maybe I couldn’t be an olympic athlete or an astronaut, but that’s no hardship because I never wanted anything like that – the costs of those goals would always have been too high for me.

So I’m living my dreams at the moment; riding and writing, walking and working, living and laughing. Maybe my dreams are small potatoes to others, but they’re big enough for me. And if tomorrow I dream a bigger dream? Well I think I can make that work too.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lesson to learn from a horse

Yesterday I went for my first little hack in the lanes around my riding centre. I rode Danny, a new horse for me, and was warned before we set out that he’s “a bit spooky”, a statement I would indeed agree with.

During our little trip out on lanes which are familiar to him, Danny took exception to:

2 dogs (one of them twice),
1 stream,
several cars,
several vans,
1 motorbike,
1 drill (with accompanying workmen),
1 horse (ridden),
3 horses (in fields or other stables),
a large assortment of trees and bushes which moved in the wind.

After all this he was exhausted, which I didn’t find a bit surprising.

The way Danny faced that hack is exactly the way I used to live my life. I was so busy going “Oh no, a car!” “Oh no, a tree!” that I spent all my energy on spooking at nothing instead of enjoying the ride. I still do, to a certain extent, but it’s something I’m trying to get away from and get over. These days I question my “Oh no, a …!” response and let myself just react, and not overreact. I was not accompanied on the hack by my usual instructor, who I had been expecting, and my instinctive response was “Oh no, a big change!”. A year ago a similar departure from my expectations would have thrown me into a big Danny-esque spook that would have spoiled my hack and the rest of the evening because I would have spent all my energy on something that didn’t matter. Because I didn’t freak out about it I had a lovely time with the lady who took me out in my instructor’s place and it was actually rather nice to hear someone else’s opinion on how I was riding.

So whenever I find myself exhausted in the future I’ll be thinking of Danny and checking my behaviour against his to see if I’m sliding back into “Oh no! There’s a tree!” thinking.

Image: bk images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the concepts of true, not true and false

This post exists because I went off at a tangent when writing On fiction and imagination and realised the tangent would probably do best becoming a post in its own right.

I wondering about how fiction works in terms of our brains and then got on to thinking about true and false; at the heart of fiction is the understanding that some things are not true. That got me thinking about what a fundamental concept “true” is because without it we cannot have “not true” or “false” and we could not conceive of things being other than they are. I am treating “not true” and “false” as slightly different entities – “false” is for maths and logic and has overtones of “wrong”, whereas “not true” is related to fiction and things that are plausible but did not actually happen.

The importance of “true” and “not true” are explored by the film The invention of lying in which no one has ever said anything that wasn’t true, with the result that fiction doesn’t exist. In the film there is no concept of (or word for) “true”, something that would cause a great deal of difficulty to mathematicians and logicians. Human development would have taken a completely different path if we did not have the yin and yang concepts of true and false. Surely without “true” and “false” you cannot have “=”, because = is a statement of truth? Without =, maths is sunk. Without maths, science and engineering are impossible. http://www.bigfoto.com/

So true and false are really important concepts for humans and have obviously been important for thousands of years as maths, science, engineering and the philosophy of truth were all pretty big in the ancient world. 🙂

On the other hand, various animals seem to manage to create complex structures without =. I have never seen a bee with a pen and paper plotting the course of the next honeycomb cell, nor a spider with a protractor to assist in his web building but their angles are “true” and their structures exact. Perhaps if you are an animal it is possible to have true without false? Or maybe they have both true and false but cannot understand “not true”? If I call my cats and a child for dinner with no intention of filling their bowls it is a lie. The child will recognise the lie as a “not true” but I imagine the feline thoughts are just “No food” or, phrased another way, “Food=false”.

It would be interesting to know how sophisticated a brain needs to be to understand the concept of a lie or fiction. Can chimps do it? It seems like perhaps they can (I just came across this fascinating page on chimp intelligence). If chimps are able to manage the complicated concepts of true, not true and false then perhaps it’s less surprising than I thought that humans can create such great intricacies of fiction and lies.

Images in this post are from www.bigfoto.com

Am I going the right way?

As my friends and I were walking along by the road yesterday we were hailed by a lorry driver. The young lorry driver slowed, leant out of his window and, in a voice brimming with cheerful good-humour and tinged with an eastern-european accent, asked us “Am I going the right way?”

There was a brief and slightly confused pause between us before one of us asked “Where are you going?” He began to pull away again but as he did so he called back to us with a grin and a wave, “I don’t know!”

It’s hard to recount this tale and do any justice to the simple magic of this exchange. My two friends and I felt we had shared a wonderful experience, even if we weren’t quite sure why. Our day had been transformed from the mundane to something infinitely more special by a man who we only saw for a matter of seconds. You may find yourself thinking there must be something sinister about a man who calls to a trio of women from a lorry; in response to that I will tell you that he asked for nothing but a few seconds of our attention and he gave us so much more.

After he had gone we wondered if we should have directed him somewhere; anywhere? Where would he end up? The freedom of imaging that he might go anywhere based on the opinion of a stranger, that he might not have a destination and wouldn’t know when or if he reached it; this enchanted us. By thinking about him travelling off into the unknown our own destinies were drawn into focus. Were we going the right way? We could go anywhere. Going back to the office was suddenly only one of our infinite options. If we had all three of us announced that we would show him the way and clambered into his cab, would we too be headed for the great unknown? At once anything was possible and the enormous potential of our lives spread out before us.

Of course, we did go back to the office but I think each of us took and treasured the memory of this mysterious man, this lorry driving philosopher, and asked ourselves “Am I going the right way?”

We don’t know where we are going and few of us know how to get there, so why not stop and ask yourself (or anyone else you meet) “Am I going the right way?” and think of the freedom we have to choose our path when there is a whole universe around us.


Disclaimer: The blog author and her friends realise that the lorry driver probably does not think of himself as a philosopher and probably intended only to amuse himself for a minute by getting a little of our attention. No doubt he did not think that the nine words he spoke to us would change our lives, but you can’t always predict what effect your words will have on others.