Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
After Page One: Practice


A guest post to motivate, encourage and inspire...


Climbing Off the Ladder: Community vs. Competition

Whether someone else said community vs. competition or the phrase simply popped into my head one day during a yoga class, I can’t say for sure. The tension between the two struck me when I first started practicing at a new studio. I was the outsider, comparing the lithe bodies around me to what I felt inside – frustration, struggle, and a desire to give up. Yet community vs. competition has continued to be my mantra. Years into my yoga practice, when I’m tempted to think, Look at me! Look how high my leg is! this mantra is more important than ever.

High rung or low, if I’m on a competitive ladder I’m isolated. And isolation is a spirit killer. Isolation whispers, "guard your image." Isolation carps “why her, not me?”

Photo by Amanda Morris

Photo by Amanda Morris

Social media makes it easy to compare one’s insides to others’ outsides. Easy to tally another writer’s publication credits and awards. Easy to think that beautiful family viewed through the screen is gliding through life. The irony is such thinking – driven by a thirst for a bigger life – actually contracts one’s possibilities.

I’m reminded of my grade-school teachers who urged during a test, keep your eyes on your own paper. Getting caught up in what someone else is doing keeps me from the hard work that must be done on my own pages, my own mat, or in my own family. The good news is when I keep my eyes on my work, my cup runneth over. Generosity for others pours out. I delight in their successes.

Such camaraderie has not come naturally. I’ve learned it. I marvel at friends and colleagues who seem to have been born with exceedingly generous hearts. Their example is a beacon to me when smallness could sow its ugly seeds.

My mother recently took her first writing workshop. She worried that this might upset me because writing is my thing. But I encouraged her. After the first class, she reported back that many in her workshop were surprised her daughter had supported her writing so lovingly. When I asked why they were surprised, she said, “Apparently, that’s not what mothers and daughters do.”

Whether my community is my mother, thirty other yogis breathing beside me, or the scores of writers with whom I connect on a weekly basis – I’ve learned not to make life a sharp-elbowed competition. There’s enough good stuff to go around. In fact, there’s more when we’re all in it together. From helpful critique to publication and agent leads to career-making breaks, I’ve seen that first hand in my writing communities.

I have two dogs – a doe-eyed black lab and a needy Chihuahua-Beagle mix. I’d love to say I’m always the graceful, self-contained lab instead of the needy little guy who noses his way in, wanting equal head pats when the lab gets attention. But the truth is, I’m both.

What I know for sure is that when I work hard at what I love, I win no matter what. I’ve found that my hard work has led to days when it’s my turn to shine and I can bask in the pats. Other days, it’s my turn to sit back, applaud, and dole out the love. Grace comes in being grateful for both.


Join our After Page One series. We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude. The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio so readers can learn more about you and your projects. 


Andrea Jarrell‘s essays have appeared in The New York Times “Modern Love” column and “Motherlode” blog; Narrative MagazineBrain,Child MagazineFull Grown PeopleThe Manifest-StationLiterary Mama; and The Washington Post, as well as the anthologies My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories about Leaving and Losing Friendships and So Glad They Told Me: Women on Getting Real About Motherhood (2016). Her forthcoming memoir will be published by Booktrope.

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"Community over competition" - this quote is one to save. Beautiful and wise words here Andrea. I will be returning to this when I edge toward the dark side.
A great reminder -- I'm competitive to my own detriment sometimes. :)
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