Teen Breathe

Why you shouldn’t compare yourself to your peers

Life unfolds at a different pace for everyone. Read on to find out why there’s no need to worry if you’re first or last in that journey.
WORDS: Heather Casey Leigh
ILLUSTRATION: Alessandra De Cristofaro

Why comparing ourselves to others can cause feelings of anxiety

Have you ever felt insecure because you haven’t yet experienced some of the things your friends have? It could be that you’re the only one in your friendship group still waiting to go through puberty or you had to take time out of school and are now a year behind everyone else your age.

Or maybe it’s the other way round and you’re the first in your class to be taller than some of your teachers or to get your period.

Perhaps you’re the only one in your group of friends to take a sport or hobby to the next level or have ended up sitting an exam earlier than your classmates. This can make you feel that things are happening too soon.

It’s normal to notice that you’re going through certain experiences at different times from your peers. Sometimes, it might bring feelings of embarrassment or anxiety, or a sense that things aren’t happening at the right time.

If you ever feel this way it’s helpful to remember that not everyone develops, either physically or emotionally, at the same rate. This is perfectly natural and even a cause for celebration. Imagine how boring the world would be if everyone did everything at the same time. Your life is a unique journey and the right time for you is when it’s time.

How looking at the natural world can help you get a better perspective on life

If you ever feel worried about where you are in relation to your peers, it might help to think about the way everything in the natural world has its own timeline.

Snowdrops are often thought of as the earliest signs of spring, while poppies begin to flower at the height of midsummer. Although they bloom months apart, it would be absurd to say the poppy is too late or to suggest that the snowdrop is flowering too early.

Each flower is unique and blooms in its own perfect time and optimum conditions. It’s similar for humans. People experience changes, including finding strengths or discovering passions, at different stages. Have faith that life will unfold in good time and give yourself permission to grow at your own pace.

People who reached their potential early and later in life

Some people blossom early on and others take longer to come into their own. Read on to explore the lives of some well-known examples.

Musicians: When someone hears the phrase ‘child genius’, it’s likely that Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart springs to mind. Mozart learnt to play the piano when he was three and began composing at five, becoming one of the youngest composers to write a symphony. He was just six when he first performed for royalty.

In contrast, when American singer-songwriter Bill Withers was a child, he had a stutter and hadn’t even begun to think about performing. He spent his late teens and much of his 20s in the US Navy. It was only when he was 29 that he began a musical career, releasing his debut album Just As I Am, when he was 32. His work features in US music magazine Rolling Stone’s list, ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, he won the Grammy Award for the best rhythm-and-blues song in 1971 and his tunes continue to spark joy.

Dancers: US ballet dancer Isabella Boylston entered the world of ballet at the tender age of three and, by the time she was 15, had a gold medal from the Youth America Grand Prix finals under her belt. She became the American Ballet Theatre’s principal ballerina in 2014, when she was 27.

At around the same age, Japanese dancer Kazuo Ohno had his first formal dance lessons. He’d previously taught physical education after graduating from an athletics college and was 43 when he performed his first dance recital in Tokyo in 1949.

In his later years, when he lost the ability to walk, he experimented with dances involving just his hands and continued to perform until he was 100 years old (he lived to 103). Kazuo co-founded the Japanese dance form Butoh and is remembered as one of the most inspirational dancers in Japanese history.

Authors: English novelist Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was just 18. The book is still considered a literary classic more than 200 years after its original publication in 1818. It’s often credited as the first ever science-fiction novel, marking a whole new genre of literature.

At the other end of the spectrum, US author Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first book was published in 1932. She had started out as a teacher employed in a one-room school near De Smet, in rural South Dakota in the US. Decades later, her daughter encouraged her to start writing and Wilder began recording her childhood memories.

These notes later became the novels in her Little House series, including Little House on the Prairie. Held in high regard, her books have been translated into around 40 different languages.


For more articles about mental health and wellbeing, read the latest issue of Teen Breathe magazine.