On my mind…

I’ve been thinking about these words by Theodore Roosevelt a lot lately, so I made a simple paper cut.

I don’t like to compete. Deep deep down, I’m sure I’m fiercely and frighteningly competitive and will claw my way to the top while gnashing my teeth and leaving detritus in my wake, if given the chance. But I clearly remember the day I consciously decided not to compare myself and not to compete if I could help it in any way.

I was about eight or nine, and like many first-borns of immigrant parents, I was the designated family translator and was somewhat overly responsible for my age. The phone rang and my mom picked it up. I could tell she was very confused so I automatically reached out to take the receiver from her. She mouthed to me, “What’s genius?”

It turned out that my younger brother had scored so astonishingly high on his IQ test that it put him smack-dab in Einstein territory. I listened to the school administrator gushing about my brother’s brilliance and placated my worried mother with smiles as I “uh-huh”ed into the phone.


It is a seminal moment for a young girl to realize that her little brother is light years smarter than herself. I won’t lie, this left me with a mother of all complexes. For the record, I’m not a genius. Not even close. I will admit that I used to have a photographic memory that would last about twenty-five minutes, which is pretty useless if you think about it. But I could consume crazy quantities of information and recite it all back perfectly as long as it was within the time it takes to heat up a Swanson’s chicken pot pie in the oven. This made me an expert crammer and this cramming method lasted throughout my educational career. Sadly, since the birth of K, I’m more of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Anyway. About the phone call. From that day forward, I started to identify myself as a not-genius, seeking ways in which I wouldn’t be directly compared to my brother. As expected, he is an outstanding artist, so the arts were out for me. My girlfriends breathlessly told me that he looked like an Asian Johnny Depp, so I was also out of luck in the looks department (not that it was an area I wanted to excel in – how do you even do that? Beauty pageants?). He wasn’t exceedingly athletic, but neither was I. I struggled to come up with something unique to me, my own brilliance.

This makes me think of a friend from college – actually, “friend” is probably too strong a word since I’m not sure that she knew my name. We were in some of the same organizations because she was in every campus organization, and she was a National Merit Scholar, the captain of the cheerleading team, president of her sorority (the best sorority on campus, natch, though I wasn’t in a sorority so I don’t know what that means exactly), and her major was pre-med. Of course. She was beautiful and super nice, making it hard to hate her. And trilingual. Without a single bad hair day. The kind of person that really makes you realize how unfair life is and she will definitely be ruling the galaxy in the near future. My old not-genius-complex reared its head whenever I saw her, and I felt myself quietly folding into a wall flower. I bet her siblings had similar complexes; or perhaps they are of the same ilk and will all be galaxy rulers.

Even the recent fabulous sewing swap momentarily tempted me to throw in the towel because I suspected my skills weren’t cutting it, and it was nerve-wracking to be compared/judged, albeit in the friendliest, most supportive way.

But here’s the thing.

I think I’ve done a huge disservice to myself for many years by freezing up and then running in the opposite direction of things I want to try because I’m afraid I don’t measure up. I’ve really missed out on a lot because of my not-genius-complex. I loved the swap, and it challenged me so much more than just sewing for K — so glad to have done it. I love to blog and am often nervous about being compared to other blogs, but keeping at it has been more rewarding than I can describe. And I’ve been so much happier pursuing all my creative outlets and only wish I had started earlier (“But when are you going to earn money?” I hear the husband begging – a topic for another day).

I think about this stuff more now that I have my own child and see her trying to forge her own identity…

At the end of the day, trying so hard not to be like someone still involves measuring, gauging, pitting myself against another. The extreme avoidance of comparison looks an awful lot like comparison and is just as much a thief of joy.

Besides, I’m a genius in my own right. No one, and I mean no one, can rock a kid’s fashion Pinterest board like I can. Don’t even try to compare yourself.

Just for kicks, I also wrote the quote on our kitchen chalkboard wall:

A bit random, but my mom is coming into town tonight! So excited — it’s going to be an amazing spring break!

39 thoughts on “On my mind…

  1. We are all unique; you just need to be the best YOU you can be 🙂 Comparing oneself with others is a tiring, pointless job — I remember a quote about how if you compare yourself with others, you’ll become vain and bitter, for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

    1. Yes!! I’ve even posted about that quote (it’s from Desiderata) – I obviously have a one track mind 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Carla! I so appreciate you taking the time to read my random thoughts! And crazy pinner is more like it 🙂

  2. I loved reading this and I am also really glad you are blogging. I found your blog because of your amazing sewing but have since found that you cover so many topics and in such an interesting and unique way.

    1. So kind, Laura! Maybe I’ll make my tagline ‘the one-stop-blog-shop’ You stop by for a little sewing update and leave with caloric recipes and quasi-philosophical musings!

  3. I love thoughtful posts like this. I acknowledge I’m a pretty competitive person, and it’s easy to let the feelings of inadequacy creep up (I’ve heard even my most admired bloggers talk about feeling inadequate, so it must be a little bit inevitable if you’re the type of person that tries hard to do things well). The key is not to let it overwhelm us, and I love your perspective on that!

    You are definitely the best pinner! I don’t even know where you FIND that stuff. 😉

    1. Thanks Kristin! I completely agree that the key is not to let any less-than-awesome feeling overwhelm us (awesomeness, on the other hand, should totally overwhelm 🙂 )

      Ah, my pinning addiction…sometimes I feel like a pinterest ninja, stealthily leaping from board to board, zeroing in on unsuspecting pinners, ruthlessly passing off other people’s good taste as my own..

  4. Funnily, I bet your brother and your friend don’t think of themselves as being all that great. They may have an awareness of being good at something, but I’m guessing that even Einstein looked as somebody like Newton and thought, “I’m so glad *that* guy’s not coming to this conference.”

    For what it’s worth, your post was by FAR the most detailed and informative one in the Japanese sewing series. Whether by chance (because you happened to have the most experience) or by design (you were assigned a slot/topic that covered the most material), it’s funny that your nervousness about participating may have led you to prepare at a higher level than you would have if you’d felt very confident.

    1. Ha! I love imagining Einstein and Newton’s rivalry! Thanks for the shout out on my JSBS post, Sarvi! Would you believe that my post was twice as long and Cherie had to gently and tactfully ask me to shorten it? Succinctness doesn’t come easily for me, obviously…

  5. sanae!! you definitely hit the nail on the head with “comparison is the thief of joy”. (ok ok i do the same thing….) but. i am SO glad you participated in the swap! and i’m really glad you blog, because i really enjoy stopping by here for a daily dose of goodness, but even more so because because it’s been so awesome to get to know you. so. stop that self-deprecating inner chatter, lady. you are awesome. xo.

    1. And you are awesome too, Robin! I better be careful or I’m going to get all kumbaya on y’all! 🙂 It was a wonderful swap and I’m SO happy to have been a part of it!

  6. I love this post because I think we expect everyone else to NOT have this issue. We feel like it’s a secret issue that only we have and that if we tell anyone it may give away the secret. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Even more lovely is that women I look up to, such as yourself, have the ability and the kindness to expose their own insecurities so that together we can shed them and do something awesome.

    Thank you so much for sharing. <3

    1. Well…I’m of the opinion that the kindness is coming from your end since you’re allowing me to blather on so that I can selfishly sort out my thoughts — thank you so much! And yes, let’s do lots of awesome things!

  7. The irony of your post subject is that as I sit down to comment on it, I feel inadequate in responding – in a unique and clever way, of course! – compared to what everyone has already said. Clearly you are not the only one who suffers from self-doubt.
    But truly, Sanae – you amaze me continually and while I think the term “genius” is thrown around far too easily and freely (as in “the director that movie is a GENIUS!” Really??), I do think that you are blessed beyond compare with so much talent. Your prolific sewing, your illustrations, your graphic design, your ability to describe Japanese Sewing books:), and your writing – oh, how I love to read your writing. All this rambling to say, the blog-world loves you and we are so, SO glad you opened up a piece of your world to us.
    And have a wonderful visit with your mom, the other creative woman of much talent. May the three of you (with K, of course) create many beautiful memories together.

      1. Lucinda – “wordy” is the only way I operate — did you not just read my novella?? I always love your thoughtful comments and I’m afraid my head will swell to insufferable proportions!

  8. I was JUST thinking of this quote. This afternoon as a matter of fact… I was wondering how to explain this concept to my five-year-old while simultaneously realizing that I should maybe revisit it myself… This last week I had to actively remind myself to look, and appreciate, and draw inspiration from the lovely creations I was seeing out there, instead of maybe selling my sewing machine… ha.

    1. This quote — such an oldie, but goodie, yes? I think it’s universally relevant, but definitely tricky to explain to the littles. Still trying to figure that one out myself. And Monica, it would be a travesty if you sold your sewing machine, don’t even joke about that! 🙂 Seriously, your creations are gorgeous!

  9. I am really enjoying your blog and think the quote (and your story with it) is a great reminder of something important. Years ago I worked with several women who had immigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union. They said that while they didn’t want to return to long lines and empty stores, they felt that the number of choices available to Americans everyday was breeding discontent. If you go in a store and feel like you have to choose the BEST jam from a choice of 10 jams, you are more likely to go home and say “this jam isn’t perfect, I should have chosen one of the others.” Whereas if you go and there is one jam, you are probably going to enjoy it just fine and not worry about it. We are subjected to a national media and advertising-driven perfectionism that (I think) makes us lose track of what is important.

    Thanks for the effort you put into your blog and for your thoughts in this post!

    1. Priscilla! What an excellent point about the discontent generated by overwhelming choices and mass-produced ideas of “perfection”! A topic close to my heart that I want to discuss more. Thank you so much for your comment!

  10. thank you for this beautiful reminder, sanae. i just love coming here, it’s always such a pleasure to get to know you a little more with each post. keep doing exactly what you’re doing!! (including pinning, hehe!)

    1. Gail – thank you, thank you… the feeling is mutual! I’m so glad I’m not scaring you off with my brain dumps!

  11. As for me, a newbie that hasn’t even been sewing a year, your blog and others like it are a continual source of information/inspiration..and has helped spawn an obsession of Japanese sewing books.
    Oh. and the pinterest boards- rock on, lady- you make me want to like and re-pin everything! *swoon*

    1. The land of Japanese sewing books is filled with goodness, Aja – so glad you’ve found it! And thanks for the Pinterest love — and like the addictive sewing books, it’s another lovely rabbit hole in which I seem to be permanently lost 🙂

  12. UGH… comparisons… inadequacies… I know it all too well. I battle these demons on a daily basis. If I let it, it’s poison that fuels my insecurities, but I work hard. Work to make it food for creative soul. It’s taxing and at times I feel I don’t know who I am because I’m so fixed on comparing myself to others. *sigh* Crazy.

    Oh Sanae, you are such a beautiful and talented lady. Far more than you give yourself credit for. I know that no matter how many people will tell you, “You’re awesome”, you won’t be convinced until YOU yourself says it so. You set the bar very high for yourself and that’s a good thing, because that will propel you to such amazing heights. I love your blog and let me be the millionth person to say, “You’re awesome”, because seriously… you are!

    Now get back to pinning!!! 🙂

    1. Oh Venus, the blushing!! It’s taking over my face and body! Girl, you DO work hard and you most definitely feed that creative soul (and other creative souls) with aplomb. I love everything you do!

  13. Sanae, I soooo needed to read this. Thanks for reading my mind and writing this, ya genius!!! 😉
    P.s. keep posting those little drawings! They always make me smile.

    1. You know, when I was a kid I wanted to have ESP so badly that I did a science project on it. Everyone thought I was being cheeky and not serious (I was totally serious). A part of me still wants to be telepathic so your comment made me happy, Erin 🙂

  14. as someone whose little grey cells
    have been dying at an alarming rate since giving birth
    and who’s used self as punch bag for as long as one can remember –
    thank you!

    1. Always so poetic, Xenia – love love! I want to know where our grey cells go – perhaps there’s a microscopic land full of memories and forgotten knowledge…

  15. I just discovered your blog, thanks to the KCWC page. Your sewing, and your daughter, are beautiful. I love your style (and that you sew from Japanese books — I have way too many and use them way too infrequently).

    This post is really lovely. It’s so much easier to see our weaknesses than our strengths, isn’t it? But it’s so important to recognize our strengths and develop them, even when our best isn’t THE best.

  16. I had never heard that quote before and it stayed in my mind this last week or so and I really like that it did. I have thought about it and applied it to different situations that have come up and found release. One can feel tensions or anxiety build up in a situation where oneself may not compare too favorably, but to pause and remember that it is the thief of joy, gives one permission to not compare but fine joy in your own abilities. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh, this is such a wonderful comment, thank you Melody! Kudos to you for applying the quote so successfully in your day-to-day. I love having that quote on our kitchen wall – such a good reminder every day!

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