I’m No Lindsey Vonn
“Hi Mr. Musselman, I’m on the selection committee for our graduation ceremony and we wanted to see if you’d be interested in being the commencement speaker this year?” The question caught me off guard for sure but my answer was almost instantaneous, “I’d love to speak at your graduation, but I’ll need to check with Ryan (my oldest son who is in the graduating class) before I can commit to it.” “Really, OK great. Please let me know what he says as soon as possible.” “I definitely will. I’m pretty sure he’ll say yes. Thanks for the opportunity, that’s a really big honor, I’m really excited.” “Well, it’s not a for sure thing yet because we have someone else we’re trying to get, it’s Lindsey Vonn.” “Oh, OK, wow, that would be awesome. Good luck with getting her.”
And so there it was in all its perfect imperfection; the frailty of the human psyche on display and I had the front row seat. You see, in between his initial question and his follow up comment I was feeling pretty damn important. And then the bomb was dropped and I felt myself traverse from the top of the mountain to the valley floor in 30 seconds or less. Located at the bottom of the valley was a trap, one that I think is familiar to every human being walking the planet. The trap that was awaiting me was the comparison trap. You know the one, where you compare yourself to someone else; maybe you compare your website to theirs, or your children to their children, or your sales volume to their sales volume, or your fitness level to their fitness level and on and on it goes. It’s a zero-sum game but I’ll be damned if I just can’t seem to help myself. And no matter the outcome, whether I end up “less than” (certainly the norm for me) or “greater than” the final result is the same; I diminish myself and my spirit. The reason I’m diminished is because I’ve entered into the dark and dangerous waters of judgment, where I make up something about someone solely on a perspective I have of them. Sure, there may be facts to support my judgment, but at the end of the day, I would have no idea how things are really going for someone in the only place that matters, inside their actual life.
As I drove home after our short conversation my mind drifted to Lindsey Vonn, to her myriad accomplishments and to her international fame. How could I possibly compete with her (the truth is, there was no competition, the speech was hers to give if they could work it out). My God, she’s an Olympian with Gold medals to show for it, not to mention she has the most wins in World Cup history. Oh yeah and she’s young, hip and happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. And she’s very sharp, at least that’s the impression I have of her. She has the total package. What a message she could deliver. Hell, I’d pay good money to come see her speak at graduation.
As for me, well I have three great children and an awesome wife. That’s the sum total of my claim to fame. Certainly worthy of acknowledgment, but in comparison, well there really isn’t much to compare me to Lindsey Vonn. But that didn’t stop me from doing so, and the more I compared myself the further I descended down the rabbit hole. I was enveloped with self-doubt and a prevailing belief; I’m not good enough, at least in comparison to Lindsey Vonn.
As I drove in silence, I thought perhaps the best thing to do would be withdraw, simply take my name out of contention. Tell them I had another commitment. I could at least save face that way. Oops, it’s my son’s graduation, what other commitment would I have that would trump that. Nope, that won’t work. So I tried to apply every relevant cliche I could think of: Just stay the course. Don’t be attached. Let the chips fall where they may. It will be what it will be. Stay positive. They sound good on paper but sometimes, when applied to actual circumstances, well they just feel like happy horseshit. The truth is I was surprisingly bummed so I just surrendered to that feeling and soaked it up, in all its self-pitying glory. Somewhere on the drive home I finally caught myself. WTF, why am I taking myself so damn seriously? It’s not like I woke up this morning and had “speaking at my son’s graduation” on my wish list. In fact, that thought had never once occurred to me. But, it’s amazing how quickly I can become attached to something that wasn’t even on my radar screen the day before. It went from being not even in the realm of possibility to something that was the most important thing in the world. Like if I don’t get to do the speech, well I could actually die.
As I slowed down and examined the absurdity of my mindset, a thought occurred to me. Stop it. You know how destructive the comparison game is to the human spirit so stop it, it isn’t helping you. And then an awareness came over me. I have no idea how Lindsey Vonn is really doing. I have no idea if she’s happy or not, if she’s fulfilled or not, if she’s enjoying her fame or not. I only have my made up story based solely on what I see in the media and God knows that isn’t usually remotely accurate. But even more to the point, why is it any of my business anyway? If I’m thinking about Lindsey Vonn, being in her business so to speak, then I can’t possibly be in my business, which is the only business I can ever control. And if I’m in her business, or anyone else’s for that matter, then I can’t be present, in this moment. I’m in the world of pre-occupation, and thus I forfeit all the magic that this moment has to offer. As Byron Katie says so well, “There’s three kinds of business in the world, my business, your business and God’s business (things you can’t control like the weather, the economy, natural disasters). And anytime I’m in anything other than my own business there’s only one possible outcome….suffering.” The whole experience was a great reminder of that premise, and of the uselessness of comparing myself to others. It truly is a fool’s errand.
About two months after that memorable interaction, I was sitting at a lacrosse game when one of the moms of a selection committee member says “so I hear you’re going to be the commencement speaker”. “I am? I had no idea.” The committee had gone radio silent and I had long since given up the thought that I would be the speaker. Within seconds of her statement, my stomach began to knot up and I had the sensation of being nauseous. Of course what showed up in that moment was fear……that I might not be good enough to pull this off. It was a fear that dominated my consciousness from that day right up to the moment of giving the speech. I can’t ever remember being so twisted up about something but then again, I can’t ever remember having a bigger responsibility, at least not professionally. I’m not sure what happened with retaining Lindsey Vonn, but I do know that it was a great honor to speak at the graduation, an honor I will never forget. Here is a link to the speech in all it’s perfect imperfection.