Imposter syndrome is nothing new, at least not in the many business and self-development groups I belong to (including my own!). Most of the discussions and tips about it focus on how to stop comparing ourselves to others, but there is another type of “comparisonitis” that is just as tough to overcome: comparing yourself to yourself. I had an embarrassing case of it myself recently that I think you will relate to.
Okay, “comparisonitis” isn’t a real word. But if it was, I’d define it as the loss of motivation resulting from the comparison to someone else that appears to be doing better than you are. And yes, that other person can also be you. It could be the younger you, an idea of who you should be, or even goals you once had but no longer align with. When I chose to bike a once-familiar route with my husband a few weekends ago, I had no idea that I’d face all of the versions of self-comparisonitis.
I’ve been sharing my journey about getting back into mountain biking, and that’s recently extended to road biking, as well. It’s been about twenty years since I did any significant rides, so I tuned up my old bike, put new tires on it, and have been enjoying hitting the road again. My son inspired me, as he has recently added road biking to his repertoire. He's been doing these big, long bike rides with a friend that I used to do back in my twenties, one of which I remember fondly.
The Eureka Canyon Loop was a favorite because it winds up through the redwood trees to a ridge with amazing views. The descent is just as lovely, sweeping down once again through the trees. I did this loop many times in my twenties when I moved here for university. Seeing my son do this ride again brought back so many happy memories that I suggested to my husband that we do it together.
I knew the ride would push me, but we planned to take our time and even stop at a friend’s cafe along the way. I figured the ride itself would take an hour longer than it used to, but we had nothing else planned that day so time wasn’t an issue.
The first quarter of the ride wasn't all that hard, and we stopped for a break at a friend’s cafe. We had never been there before, so we visited, and ate too much yummy food and iced coffee, which probably wasn’t a great idea. I started to get nervous about the rest of the ride because I knew the hills were coming, but I kept my reservations to myself.
The real work began, and we started climbing up through the trees toward the top. I was okay at first, but it was a lot steeper than I had remembered. Even in my easiest gear, I had to stop four or five times on the way up to catch my breath. That’s when my husband took this very flattering video of me. I cannot remember ever suffering so much on a ride, and never on this one.
I remember the last time I did the loop, and it was amazing! In my head, I was comparing my current performance to myself in my twenties and early thirties. I was also comparing myself to friends my age to still do these types of rides. It didn’t help my motivation, but I had to keep going; mainly because the road is remote and I had no other choice! I dug deep for all my mindset tricks, and I even had to tell my husband to stop talking because I needed to concentrate.
In the end, we made it home, albeit much later than I thought we would. I’m still laughing at how long it took and how hard it was; the experience was also a great reminder that who I am now isn’t the same person I was twenty or thirty years ago, and that isn’t a bad thing.
In my twenties, racing and training were a big part of my life. I had a job, school, and a dog, but my life and goals were very different from what I am living now. Today I have a husband, a home to care for, and two kids. While my children are older, my relationship with them is still a big priority. My goals are very different, too.
When it comes to fitness, my goal right now is to be reasonably fit so I can ride with my husband or friends, and keep volunteering for my son’s mountain bike team. Of course I can’t keep up with my younger self, or my friends who ride their bikes every day (because that is their priority). I’m turning 53 next month, and even if I had completely maintained my fitness for the past 20 years, I still wouldn't be as strong as I was back then.
When I shared my story with a friend, she had a very similar experience. She was invited to go backpacking with friends over the summer, and she said yes. She thought that she’d be fine (famous last words, apparently!) because she used to do a ton of backpacking and had even been an Outward Bound instructor for many years. She said that she spent most of the trip trying to stay positive for her friends’ sake, yet really just wanted to go home because it was so hard. She just couldn't believe how much harder it was than when she was younger.
The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to you, or anyone else for that matter, here are some things to keep in mind.
Comparing yourself to others or other versions of yourself is normal, but it shouldn’t define your success. Keep dreaming and taking smart actions towards your goals, and you’ll get there. I know I jumped the gun at tackling the Eureka Canyon Loop and I suffered for it, but I’ll try again. It will take a while to build up my stamina with many shorter rides, and I still may need to take breaks, but I’m okay with that.
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