The Only Difference

The truth is that you are awesome every day. People see it in meetings, in your emails, in the interactions with coworkers where they give you respect when you are in the room, and where they speak about your work with respect when you are not in the room. You are one of the good ones. On your bad days, you are still better than most people on their average days, and better than many even on their best days.

The “only” difference…

The only difference is that you believe other people don’t have the same doubts and self-criticisms. You can’t peer inside their head.

But I’ve been around the “greats”, and had a front-row seat. I was a kid. They didn’t think I was watching. But I saw.

He was world famous. Possibly one of the top 10 in the world. Books were written by him, and about him. Royalty and dignitaries gave him standing ovations. At 18 he was playing with the professionals. He and his cohort shaped the course of their industry for generations.

But I was his kid. I saw him. I watched.

I watched as he woke up each morning in boxer shorts and farted his way to the bathroom.
I watched as he literally put his pants on 1 leg at a time.
I watched him build a protective cocoon of ego and bluster,
because deep down he was a poor kid from the bad part of town who slept out on the fire escape at night with cold rags because they couldn’t afford air conditioning.
Who, to this day, takes a shower by getting wet and then turning off the water to soap up because keeping the shower running was wasteful.
I watched him focus on the wrong things
Make bad business decisions
Throw good money after bad
Be a demonstrably bad parent, and insist (once again, to this day) that it was OK
Go on bitter tirades about work for things which ultimately wouldn’t matter in a week
Lose friendships over infinitesimally small things
And his own inability to say “I’m sorry”

I was in college.

I had teachers who were brilliant but haughty, and so their career went nowhere.
And where did that haughtiness come from? Not because they were convinced of their superiority
But because they had to convince themselves.
Because deep down, they feared. They doubted. They worried.

I worked with incredibly talented people who were also so wracked by self doubt that they routinely submarined their own opportunities.
And I also worked with incredibly talented people who “made it” despite anxiety that kept them locked in their dorm rooms some days
Only to watch them from a distance as the bad habits they had in college failed to serve them (it never did) and ultimately overwhelmed them.
People like him, intense, frat-boy, fragile. Who ultimately succumbed.
People like her, who seems to have risen above it, but every day I wonder and worry
Or the other one, who spend the totality of their 4 years in college following “the greats” around at night and then skipping class

Those aren’t people I saw from afar. They are people I interacted with all day, every day, for 4 years. They were intense and brilliant and gifted.
And they suffered in the way that I think we all suffer, on some level.
And I wonder if they knew the difference, either.

The only difference
Is that each of us thinks we’re the only one

When it’s all of us.

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