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How Do We Stay Content With Our Own Writing Journeys?

This summer new neighbors moved next door. They have three little boys—one who is almost 4 and twins who are 16 months. When I look at this family, I have major déjà vu. Approximately ten years ago, I was in the same situation with my oldest being 4 and my twins almost 2 (except my twins are girls).

As my neighbors chase after all their little ones, I get sweaty just watching. I remember how much work it was at that stage. My twins (now almost 12), adore their miniature counterparts and rush over to play with the boys whenever they’re outside. So I’m hoping we can bless our neighbors and lighten the load for them at times.

However, one evening, as I was sitting on my back porch watching the children play, I began to compare our “toys” to theirs. Our young neighbors have a big swingset-fort combination with all of the latest gadgets. The wood is stained a deep reddish color and the slide is bright yellow. Everything about it is solid. And their trampoline is sturdy, the canvas tight, and the colors vibrant.

Then I looked at our swingset and trampoline and felt a pang of jealousy. Our trampoline is faded and frayed, and our swingset is barely hanging together with its weathered boards, dirt-streaked slide, and rusty chains.

As I nursed my wish for bigger and better “toys” for my children, I realized how foolish I was. Why was I comparing? After five children and ten years of loving use, our backyard toys are worn out, and rightly so. The toys have brought us plenty of joy and memories. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Comparison is an enemy. And for writers it can be one of the most deadly.

Recently I chatted with a fellow author about how things were going with her publication experience. Once again, I found myself comparing. I began to look with envy at her writing journey and all that she was doing, and discontentment crept in. Before I knew it, I was unsettled, unhappy, and even slightly depressed.

As I chatted with my agent, Rachelle Gardner, about the comparison, she shared something she'd recently read: “Comparing is the enemy of joy. It's painful and unskillful to compare, no matter what conclusion we draw. Comparison creates agitation in the mind. Whether you come out ahead in the comparison, or behind, or equal—comparison itself is the problem.”

How do we stay content with our own writing journeys and resist the temptation to compare with others? I’m not really sure I have all the answers. As you can see, I recently failed twice at avoiding the comparison trap! But, as I wrestled through my comparison issues, here are three things I realized:

1. Each of our writing journeys will be completely and uniquely different.

We’re all individuals with differing writing styles, voices, personalities, goals, and values. Thus it stands to reason that each of us will have varied publishing experiences.

No one else is going to have a journey exactly like mine, and I can’t expect to imitate someone else. We have to be open to where our journeys will take us—even if the path looks different from others.

2. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

Usually we put on our best face for others to see and keep our problems private. As open and vulnerable as I am on this blog, I still only share my deepest heartaches with a trusted few. And we’re wise to do so.

However, that means when we look at what others are doing, we often only see their positives. While everything might appear wonderful, that the grass is tall and beautiful and perfect on their side of the fence, the reality is that there are always weeds and bugs in every yard.

3. Remember to count our blessings.

When we think we’re coming up short compared to others, that’s a good time to take stock of what we have. If we look hard enough we can find things to be thankful for. In fact, sometimes it’s helpful to remember that there are plenty of others in this world with so much less.

My writing journey definitely has its unique struggles. But whenever I’m tempted to compare, I need to count all the many blessings my journey has brought so far. 

What about you? Do you ever compare your writing journey to those of other writers? Does it leave you feeling agitated or discontent? How do you work through the dissatisfaction that comparison brings?

*Photo credit: Flickr Fraser Scott

54 comments:

  1. Wise agent!
    Only this morning I was reflecting on how easier my life has become, my children are now 11 and 6. A few years make a huge difference.
    Yes, toys do get older too, etched with the memories of laughter and much pleasure.
    As to comparing myself, I don't. It's not in my nature. We all have our own paths.

    Have a great weekend,
    Elle

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  2. I don't know that I've compared writing journeys as much as I've compared writing. Just when I think I'm finally hitting my stride, I'll come across someone's beautifully written words and fall into a place of dissatisfaction—that, gosh, I'll never be able to write like that. However, two good things come out of such a mindset: 1.) Good writing motivates me; it teaches me to look at my own writing differently. And, 2.) Maybe I *should* look at the writer's journey behind the beautiful writing, rather than just the end product, because that person has probably taken their lumps and gone through their own struggles with their writing. And so...now I spend too much of my writing time reading writer's blogs to learn of others' journeys. :P

    Barb

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  3. How timely this post is for me! I can't tell you how many times in the past TWO days I have read comments from people who are preparing for their first books to be published. I immediately experience the twin emotions of excitement for them and envy. And questioning...when will it happen for me? Here's where my life verse comes in (Jer 29:11). I know God has a plan for me and the timing for it is perfect. I also have to remember that when I focus on what is happening with someone else it takes my focus off of God - and that is ALWAYS as mistake. Comparing our own situations with others is never good. I can relate so much to feeling unsettled and depressed. That takes the joy out of writing and that is just unacceptable. I am trying very hard to keep doing what I should do and let God work out the details and timing of everything else. He's pretty good at that! :) Thanks for a great post!

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  4. I have always struggled with an inferiority complex which has now seeped into my writing life. Other writers who blog always seem so talented to me and appear to have gained regonition easily. I know that the later is not really true and that many writers have had to work hard for many years to achieve what they have. Hopefully the more writing I accomplish and the more I learn will enable me to gain in confidence.

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  5. Another great blog, Jody. Thanks so much.

    Elizabeth Loraine

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  6. I love this post. It really can be tough sometimes to not only realise that every writer's journey will be different, but to accept this as well. We each follow our own path. One paths are straight, others diverge. Sometimes we stray and get lost for a while. Somtimes we run ahead a little faster, or decide to stay put for a rest.

    I've found myself falling into the comparison trap lately, and even though the comparisons have been happy ones, they have brought attention on some bad times as well. There has to be a point where you just stop comparing the good and the bad, and just be content that we're on the right path for us at this time, and we're blessed to have companions on the journey, regardless of where they are.

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  7. Jody, Yes and I shouldn't. God made each of us unique. We have successes that others don't.

    Jealousy and envy stall the creative juices.

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  8. This is one of those issues that I, unfortunately, struggle with in a bad way from time to time. I'll come across a blog that, oh-my-goodness, does exactly what I wish mine did. "This person could be me. This should have been me."

    Then, I'll realize that I don't have the same experiences that she does and my writing style is completely different. I just have some of the same interests. And poof, the jealousy is gone, and I'm looking at a fantastic blog that peaks my interests.

    This is definitely a difficult issue for writers at times. We can't let it get out of hand though.

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  9. What a thoughtful post, Jody. It's encouraging to see other writers struggling with the same thing that I sometimes do. Normally when I hear about a book sale or someone's career moving along well, I'm overjoyed for them. But sometimes the "why not me?" thoughts kick in. In the end, I just come away trying to be thankful with what I do have, an awesome agent, a good low-pressure contract for a debut writer, and years 30+ years ahead of me to learn and write and grow.

    When I think of what I do have, it's hard to get jealous.

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  10. I really try never to compare but sometimes it's just impossible! Nothing good comes of it.

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  11. Yes, I definitely compare and Rachelle is 100% right - it is the enemy of joy.

    Thanks for these tips and these reminders Jody.

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  12. I used (i.e. just a few months ago) to do this all the time and it made me miserable. I've since come to realise that everything happens in its own time, and my life up to now hasn't been wasted just because I'm not coming up to ten years' published! My whole life has been leading me towards where I am now and it's a wonderful place to be!

    Every now and then my CP has to give me a slap (virtually, because she lives a LONG way away) to make me calm down, but in general I've come to realise the value of what I am doing for me and not compare it to anyone else.

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  13. Great post, Jody!!! You are SO right!!! It isn't easy though... as an unpublished author when you hear all your writer friends announcing their contracts or agent news... the immediate response (at least for me) is elation for them.... but that is quickly followed by that yucky twinge of "I wish it was me, too." I've learned though to acknowledge that the feeling is GOING to be there despite all my attempts to squash it, and learn to get over it fast, reminding myself that I just need to keep working at it. Wallowing in self-pity doesn't help a thing!

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  14. Jody, you and Rachelle are quite right. Writing should be like recreational golf, where it's one-on-one with the course and your score, not a PGA tournament where you're keeping one eye on what everyone else is doing.
    Twitter and FaceBook are my enemies here. Every time someone posts about how many words they've written, about the launch of their new book, about a multi-book contract, I cringe and have to fight the urge to compare what they're doing with my situation. I appreciate your sharing this post.

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  15. Jody, I needed to hear this today. I did this yesterday (compared) and found myself inadequate and totally lacking. Why do I do this? I know it's wrong.

    Each day I thank God for our many blessings, and yet sometimes I exclude my writing progress from the list. Thanks so much for this important reminder. I'm bookmarking this page to refer back to when i'm feeling low.

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  16. I don't compare my writing journey to others because I realize that everyone was once in my shoes now. And some day, as long as I remain persistent and determined, I'll be in their shoes too!

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  17. Thanks for another timely post, Jody. I am always comparing. At first it's to get an idea what to expect, but then it becomes jealousy and pity parties.

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  18. Such good advice! I guess when I'm jealous, I'm assuming God favored someone else at my expense. So I'm judging that He fell short in giving me exactly what I needed at the right time. But the Bible and my life experiences both tell me that's a lie. Thanks for this reminder of how to focus on what's true . . . Blessings, Jody!

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  19. Thank you Jody, this post is a keeper!!I already printed it out. It's so easy to fall into this trap of comparisons. When I get caught up in another person's journey, I know that I rob myself of the moment and all that my own work could be. In the end, you just have run your own race.

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  20. Hi everyone! In an odd way it really helps to know that I'm not the only one who compares!! Thank you all for your honesty about your struggles! :-)

    And I think Dr. Mabry hit on something. With the ease of sharing our news and accomplisments via facebook and twitter, we're better able to keep up with each other. When we see what SO many others are doing, we're faced with even more temptation to compare. Sometimes ignorance is bliss!

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  21. Great post! It's always so hard to keep from comparing. Most days I'm so good at it, but then some days...I don't know, something in my snaps and I think, "Maybe my stuff just isn't good enough." Of course, then I can always go back to the blogosphere and find all the support I need. :-)

    <3 Gina Blechman

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  22. I love this, Jody. The one reason I can find to truly be grateful that it's taking me so long to reach publication is that my motives and ability to do just what you're talking about here has grown with every year I'm in the process. It's so much more peaceful and freeing if we can let the jealousy go. My dad always quoted a Narnia line to me when it comes to the why-not-me's and Why-thems: Theirs is not your story. I'm trying to live with that surrender.

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  23. I spiraled a bit last night into this very topic. At a great critique group, I was amazed at the talent of the women around me. I felt so incapable. How could I ever write like that? My dh spoke the same type of truth to me. "You're not supposed to write like that. You're supposed to write like you." He reminded me that I'm not on this new roller coaster to get published. I'm on it to follow my Lord's leading for whatever His purpose. Since my path isn't the same as the other gals there (for all of our paths are different), there is no comparison.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jody

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  24. You are so absolutely right. Comparison doesn't do anybody any good. We all have our own different skills and abilities that will take is all where we want to go if we work hard.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  25. I heard years ago that comparison is an act of vengeance against yourself and it is so true. I am guilty of it all the time, however.All I can do is catch myself in the moment and do some self-talk, like you mention here, Jody.
    karen

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  26. Knock on wood, but I'm in a good place with this right now. (Not saying I haven't struggled in the past, mind you.)

    But I've really been seeking out God's direction for each step of my journey, and He's giving me contentment in return. A friend and mentor recently reaffirmed that I bring something unique to the table, just like all of us do. When I realized the truth of her words, it "clicked" for me.

    I'm sure those niggling comparisons will return, though...It's inevitable. But I'll keep plugging into this writing community and into God's word to remember my worth. :)

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  27. Your second point is something I rarely think about -- that I'm seeing only what others allow me to see, and that's seldom the whole picture. When I encounter someone who is on a more successful level than I am, I assume they're more content, that they've achieved their dream and don't need anything I can offer. Because I'm not aware of their difficulties I probably don't provide enough support and understanding. Comparison is primarily a self-centered thing, so thanks for helping me think about the other side.

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  28. Great, great post here, Jody. This is something we all need to be reminded off occasionally (okay, frequently!). Writing is one of those games we can never "win." No matter how many goals we achieve, no matter how successful we are - in both our own eyes and those of the world - there will always be someone who seems to be doing a little better than us. He gets more money, more acclaim, better cover art, whatever. But, who knows, that person we're turning green over might be looking at us the same way! We all have a role to play in this life, and the paths we take on our individual journeys are all wonderfully unique. The great thing about the writing world is that it doesn't have to be an outright competition. You and I can both succeed, so I don't have to wish for your downfall in order to achieve my own success. Looking at someone else's writing journey and comparing it to our own is ultimately about as fruitful as looking at someone else's face and comparing it to our own. We're all different, we're all special, we all have our own paths to the destiny God has planned for us. As long as we're on the path He's designed for us, we're right where we're supposed to be.

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  29. This is great advice. I don't think there's a person on this earth who hasn't fallen into the comparison trap. I think it's inherent in human nature and one none of us can avoid.

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  30. Boy, did I need to hear this message today. It's so easy to get distracted from the joy of writing by comparing. Thank you.

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  31. Oh my goodness, yes! I was just tweeting about being irrationally jealous yesterday, in fact. It's a poison that we somehow drink willingly (and in copious amounts).

    I have no wise words on how to keep the little green monster from creeping in, but counting your blessings is definitely a good start.

    Lovely post. Keep 'em coming! :)

    Cyndi

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  32. I think green eyed monsters should stay in stories and let kind warm-hearted helpfulness rise above the niggling feelings that someone's got it easier better whatever. It would be awful if we were all good/bad at the same thing anyway. And the good doesn't always last forever. There should be a writer's yoga lol.

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  33. It's like you wrote this exactly for me! It's so easy to get caught up in the hype of other writers. I see so many people getting agents, getting deals and things of that sort-I find my self getting jealous! Thank you for this beacon of hope! I'm not alone!

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  34. Thanks, Jody. It takes courage to reveal your insecurities as you do here, but it takes wisdom to discover the insights you offer as remedies. (I agree with all three of your points.)

    Though I have my inner torments, the "I-fall-short-by-comparison" problem, thankfully, rarely troubles me (at least in regard to my writing). I suspect that's because I keep in mind, as several commenters observed, that we're each on our own path.

    Recently though, I did catch myself comparing my writing to a favorite author's--Patrick O'Brian. But got over it when I reflected that his path to write historical fiction for audiences of the 1970s-90s, and mine is to write inspirational fantasies for my contemporaries. Rather pointless to compare when viewed from that angle.

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  35. Once again, you've posted about something I needed to read. Thanks so much, Jody. God has indeed used you today to speak to me!

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  36. Guilty! It's hard not to compare sometimes, but I agree with Rachelle--it's a dumb move. And really, all I'm doing is being a. ungrateful or b. cocky. Neither trait suits me!

    Great post, Jody!

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  37. This is an excellent post for all writers. I compare every now and then...I'm human. Your agent is wise to pass that tidbit to you...and you, to all of us.

    We all need to sit back and count our blessings when the compare gremlin tries to creep in.

    Thanks for tips.

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  38. Yep, count our blessings and enjoy our part of the journey no matter where we are. Writers think they can't wait til they get an agent and get published, but those things bring other challenges and pressures. Hard not to compare ourselves with other writers, however!

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  39. this is a great post! (as you can tell by all the comments!) As human beings we tend to compare many different aspects of our lives with the lives of others. It is very hard to stay in the realm of happiness within oneself at times when it seems like others have it so good. I always try to tell myself no person or situation is perfect, there is always more than meets the eye. As far as writing, there is more than enough room for all of us out there. :)

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  40. Absolutely yes! I've been working towards publication for a while now, but I'm not yet at the query stage. Sometimes it seems like I'll never get there, or that I'm not working hard/fast enough, or that I'm not good enough -- that's when envy is able to take hold.

    It's so easy to connect with other writers these days. That's been wonderful for the most part and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but sometimes I wish I didn't know just how many other writers are out there...

    Thanks for the great reminders!

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  41. Love all of the comments today!! Thank you for sharing everyone! You've all encouraged me! :-)

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  42. Count my blessings. Name them, one by one. The Lord is so good. If I can rest there, contentment will rest on me.

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  43. I loved the reminder that we don't often hear the whole story, and short roads to publication are often the exception.
    Thanks, Jody!

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  44. A most excellent post, Jody! I have compared my writing journey to others--and it always leads to being discontent. I need to be grateful for how God is working in my life, the doors he is opening--and closing--and how is with me in the good and in the challenging times.
    Rachelle is so right when she says: “Comparing is the enemy of joy."

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  45. Just read a verse this morning that is so relevant...Psalm 37:8b "Do not fret - it leads only to evil." The commentary I read talked about how a discontented and envious person is open to temptation and can be easily encouraged to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. I know that from experience, unfortunately. Another good reason to rest in God's plan right where we are. Have a great weekend everyone.

    Sherri
    esthersdestiny.blogspot.com

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  46. So true! I just revisted this topic on my blog. Are we ever free of making comparisons with other writers? I'll let you know when I get there, but for the meantime, with each year in my writing journey, the comparisons are less and as the acceptance of my own journey grows!

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  47. I did more comparing when I didn't really know much about the fiction publishing industry. Now that I know how many very different paths there can be to publication, it's much harder to make those comparisons because there are no "apples to apples" situations!

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  48. Excellent post, Jody. The comparison trap is easy to fall into, and then the discontent starts. Thanks for your words of wisdom today. And, I loved the images of the kids and their playgrounds, especially the twins.

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  49. I read this the other day on the last day of a writing retreat with a wonderful group of women and it really resonated with me. In a kind of same, same but different way...

    Each day in class we would read our writing homework out loud and it was so wonderful to hear the different pieces we came up with. It was also hard not to compare and feel a pang of jealousy every now and then when someone was able to paint a richer picture than myself. I was relieved to find out at the farewell dinner that I was not alone and nearly all of my companions had felt the same. In the end we were all comparing our own writing to each others, drawing needless comparisons.

    The reality was that there were varying degrees of experience in the group, some of us were very new writers while some were much more experienced. We came from different backgrounds and different life experiences. What we all shared was a love for writing. We all developed and improved over the week and we could all see that in each others' work and even in our own but we continued to be our own worst enemy and severest critics!

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  50. What a lovely post. I have learned to stop comparing. The financial crisis has hit friends hard. Friends I envied for having their own properties and luxuries. Now they are wanting my life. A lovely rented villa for life and basic income. Their goods are drowning them as they have no cash flow to bale them out. My heart goes out to them, I do not want what they have now...sadness and regret. My new life in Cyprus is a good one and have no need to compare. In my writing life I find myself wishing but no longer comparing.

    Your yard is your memory box it does not need bright yellow plastic to show you how blessed you are with your babies. Have a good week.

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  51. It's so easy to compare...everything. All we can do is try to focus, and be thankful. Great thoughts here!

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  52. Jody,
    As always, you are right on target. Let us all plant our own gardens and not envy our neighbor's!
    Holy

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  53. Thanks for chiming in, everyone!

    Becs, you brought up an interesting perspective with everyone in your writer's group viewing each other with envy and not realizing it! That was great that you could talk about it so openly later and really see how needless the comparing was!

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  54. Great tips here, Jody. For those of us with a naturally competitive nature, it's hard not to look at other authors and think 'why isn't that happening to me?'. But you're right... we're comparing apples to oranges because no two publishing journeys are the same.

    I think your most important point though is the positive face we put on for the world so other's can't see our frustrations and disappointments. For those of us looking in, we'd be wise to remember that we're not seeing that other authors whole reality.

    Thanks for the excellent reminder to always do our best to keep things in perspective.

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