“Never compare your inside to somebody else’s outside, because you will always lose.”
– Marie Moseley
Picture the scene. You are back in your school days. It is exam time. You are sitting in the exam hall and the invigilator tells you all you may now turn over your papers and begin. You start reading the first question. It looks gibberish. So you move to the next question, which looks like gibberish which has been translated into gobbledegook. And so it goes as you read each of the utterly impossible questions. You wonder how on earth anyone can be expected to answer these questions, and you look around the room at your fellow students, expecting to see equally puzzled stares on their faces. Only, when you look, they all seem to be concentrating on the papers, scribbling away at their undoubtedly perfect answers. Oh no! Everyone else is happy and sailing through this exam and you are stuck and can’t think of any answers and feel awful because you are going to fail and they are all so confident and doing well…
I’m sure we’ve all been there. I know I have!
Of course, after a while you settle down and reread the questions and things start to make sense and you begin to answer them, but you can’t shake off that feeling that everyone else in the room is doing so much better than you are because they are all scribbling away and they look so sure, so confident.
I bet it does.
And not just in those old exams either!
Who has ever walked into a room full of strangers, be it a party or a networking event or a seminar or whatever, and felt so completely alone and insignificant because whilst they feel a bit nervous (or downright scared, let’s be honest) everyone else looks although they are so in control of their situations either as they talk to others or even as they stand quietly but confidently alone, all looking as though they feel so much more secure and confident.
But are they?
You see, the problem is that in both of those situations (and the countless other similar ones which we all encounter throughout life), we are comparing how we feel inside, with how others look from the outside. And any time anyone on the planet compares how they feel inside with how they think other people look on the outside, they will always lose.
For our outside hides much of what we are feeling all the time. Someone can be feeling really nervous inside, but outside they look fine; conversely someone can give the outward appearance of being calm and collected and in control, whilst inside they are a bundle of nerves frantically trying to remember what they are supposed to say next and wondering if anyone will pay attention to them and wishing they were somewhere else entirely!
When you were feeling really nervous in the exam and looking around at all the others who were scribbling away and looking as though they knew exactly what they were doing, what you couldn’t see was that inside pretty much most of them they had the same sorts of feelings as you – mind in danger of going blank at any second, can’t quite remember the full details of the subject, wishing the questions were about a completely different aspect, wondering if they can get it done in time. But, because they are head down over the paper and scribbling away (quite possibly scribbling the only things which come to mind at the time and desperately hoping it will eventually make some sort of point-earning sense), they look as though they are in control. And you know what? If one of them were to look at you as you were scribbling down what little you could dredge up on the topic for the first question, they would almost certainly think “Wow, they know what they are doing, look at them racing through the answers, I bet they do much better than I do”.
We all put on a front, we hide our true inner feelings, with various sorts of masks. And we do it all the time, every day. And so does everyone else!
And that’s the key point which is so import an to remember, but which is also oh so easy to forget.
Gary Numan, famous electronic musician, rose to considerable fame in the 1970s especially with his song Cars. Naturally he and his band played live gigs and appeared on TV. Gary had a very strong presence on stage, often standing stock still and staring out at the audience, not moving, impassive expression on his face.
A very commanding stage presence, people admired his supreme confidence at being able to just stand there in front of everyone and not move – can you imagine how much confidence and courage it would take to stand on stage like that, lights focused on you, thousands of pairs of eyes all watching you and you alone, and to just stand there stock-still staring at them motionless?
The thing is, as Gary later revealed, the reason he did that was not because of supreme confidence, it was because he was petrified ad couldn’t think of anything to do, so he pretty much froze!
So whilst the audience and critics were admiring this supremely confident young man totally in control of his emotions and feelings, he was actually standing there petrified, mind blank, not able to think what to do.
Quite a difference between his inside and his outside!
So next time you are at that party or networking event or seminar gathering and you feel awkward and out of place because everyone else looks as though they fit in, remember that he only person in the room whose true feelings you can know are your own, and remember that we all look a lot calmer on the outside than we ever feel inside.
That person standing there on their own, looking as though they are totally calm and without a care in the world – chances are they are as nervous and as shy as you are and far from rebuffing any advances would almost certainly be thoroughly grateful if you went up to them and said hello and started chatting – they are probably looking at you thinking “Wow, I wish I was as calm and confident as them”!