One of the worst things that we all do, and we all do it to some extent, is to compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to do, especially in the world of social media and the constant measurement of value that society places on everything.
It doesn’t matter how good you might be as a fencer, there will always be someone who is better on a given day. Life and fencing are too fluid and changing for us to get trapped in the notion of who is the best, even within the competitive fencing environment.
For fencers, it’s especially easy to fall into the habit of comparing ourselves to others because we are based on the comparison of one fencer to another in every bout. Is the best fencer the one who gets the most points? Is there such a thing as the “best” fencer?
The thief of joy
President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s the kind of quote that is worthy to be put up in every fencing club.
We are not fencing only to win points or earn medals. The reason we are fencing goes far beyond that. We are fencing because it fills us with joy, both in the actual fencing itself and in the relationships that we build through fencing. When we compare ourselves to others, we rob ourselves of the joy that should be flowing from the fencing.
This is just as true when we compare ourselves to fencers who are less accomplished than we are as when we compare ourselves to fencers who are more accomplished than we are. In both instances, you are pulling the attention away from your own growth and putting your lens on someone else. If you think to yourself “I’m so much better than that other fencer who has just started,” then you are pushing yourself up by pushing someone else down. This might bring a boost for a moment, but it is only going to drain you of joy in the long term.
Self acceptance is central
Accepting where you are in this moment is an important part of this. Rather than looking at others to see who is better or who is worse, turn back and look at yourself.
People say that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In our kind of fencing, that’s absolutely true. We do better and grow greener if we water the grass on our own side of the fence, because that’s what we actually have control over.
It doesn’t matter what you did in the past either. Maybe you struggled to train during the pandemic, or maybe you’re struggling right now with how to get the focus you want to have. You as a fencer must learn to accept who you are, because we all have bumpy roads in our journey towards becoming better fencers. Embracing your own path as a fencer is powerful, because it’s your path.
Inherent in comparing ourselves to others is avoiding self reflection. You can’t reflect on yourself if you’re thinking about other people. It’s a waste of time and energy, even if it kind of gives you a fake boost in that moment. When that voice of comparison starts to talk to you in your head, you can choose to be on your own side. You are your own best ally. Comfort yourself and give yourself pep talks when you find yourself falling into the comparison cycle. You deserve it!
The social media trap
It’s impossible to talk about comparing ourselves to others in this modern time without thinking about social media. It’s a major touchstone of so much of our interaction, and this was especially true through the pandemic when we were so disconnected from one another.
Social media is not reality. Though you might well have come across this blog on social media, and though it is a powerful way to connect with people and ideas, it is not the truth.
You might see fencers posting their accomplishments and their happy pictures of training on social media, and this can be good motivation if you take it in context. Social media is a happy highlight reel of life though, and rarely do we see the hardships in training and motivation that fencers face when we look at the sparkling images on Instagram and Facebook.
Every fencer, no matter how talented or accomplished, has hard days. Every fencer struggles at moments to push beyond their plateaus in development. Every fencer has conflict with their coach, with their family, within themselves. We don’t see any of that when we are scrolling. It is too easy, for both young fencers and for seasoned fencers, to compare the wholeness of our training with the little bits that we see in the curated world of online life.
The more that you are able to either disconnect from social media, or even just to carefully put those interactions in their proper place, the less you will find yourself comparing who you are in the real world with who other fencers are in the imaginary online world that you keep in your pocket. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your favorite fencers or that you shouldn’t create community online in the fencing world, it only means that you should be aware and catch yourself if you’re comparing yourself to what you see there.
Draw inspiration from others
Though comparison with other fencers is unhealthy, this does not mean that we should cut ourselves off from other fencers. We can and should draw inspiration from other fencers. This is a bit like flipping comparison on its head – using that same inclination that we have to compare ourselves to others, but instead we find them as inspirational figures in our lives.
One wonderful way to do this is to keep positive people in our fencing circle. Surround yourself with the people who help you find your flow in fencing. When you do fail, and you should fail at times because it is part of growing, you’ll have people in your life who will help you to realize your way forward. These might be your mentors, your coach, your teammates, even competitors that you connect with on the tournament circuit.
Inspiration doesn’t have to come from big areas either. Often, we are most inspired by the little interactions that we see, as opposed to those big wins on the national or international fencing stages. When they are close, we can more easily connect with them.
A great place to start is by watching other fencers right in your club. How do they respond when they win a match? It is easy to be lifted up when you see a fencer win a match and then respond with good sportsmanship to their opponent. This can be especially helpful if you’ve been struggling with jealousy yourself. Now look to see how fencers respond when they lose a point. Do they become tense and struggle to recover, or are they buoyed forward and more focused when they lose that point? This is a place that you can learn a lot about your own fencing path and how you can grow in your response to struggle.
This can also happen in competition. People watching is a pastime that is not only enjoyable, but it’s genuinely helpful. In the context of a fencing competition, you can learn so much from seeing what other people are doing and how they are responding to the challenging emotions and challenging fencing problems that you’re facing.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of other fencers! Our community in this sport is open and encouraging. If you are at your club and you see someone do a movement that you think is fantastic, go ask them about it. Ask your coach about what you see at competition. Part of learning to overcome the issue of comparison is to face it head on. Put it in the context of learning rather than placing a value judgement on one person or another, and suddenly this drive to compare becomes a real asset.
We can take power and strength from competitors by seeing ourselves in them in positive ways. Think about the challenges that they face and overcome, and with this you can see the challenges in your own life and how you might overcome those challenges. Stop comparing yourself to other fencers, and start finding inspiration in other fencers that helps you to become the best version of yourself.