“Don’t look at someone else’s plate” is either a known Russian saying or else it’s particular to my mother. Usually, she said this during dinner when I made inappropriate commentary about how someone eats something. My six-year-old daughter learned a similar phrase in preschool: “don’t yuck my yum.”
The phrase goes beyond saying “ick” as someone eats a three-meat sandwich; it’s staring into someone else’s plate and judging how they’re eating or if they’re not eating enough or if they’re eating too fast or too slow or if they don’t want their foods to touch.
The expression has a deeper meaning. It is essentially saying, “eye on the prize,” don’t waste your time diverting energy which could be propelling you forward. Keep taking one step in front of the other and don’t study the competition; leave that to business school students. Competition has no place interrupting creation.
In a swimming heat at the Olympics earlier this month, Le Clos stared down Phelps in an animalistic posturing move. This was his attempt at intimidation, but Phelps wasn’t affected. Later in the pool, Le Clos spent valuable seconds looking over at Phelps’ lane rather than focusing on his lane, and it cost him a medal; he finished fourth place.
It’s symbolic; in life, the only race that matters is the one we’re racing against ourselves.
This lesson beyond gastronomy permeates every element in life. It’s hard in an age of Facebragging, when friends show off their expensive tropical vacations, their three-car garages complete with luxury cars, to not be tempted by these false dangling carrots. I’ve learned not to compare career success to my co-workers, not to be envious of a friend’s perfectly presented marriage, not to compare my children to their peers. Mostly I’ve learned time and time again, I can never presume, assume, or speculate on what’s happening IN REAL LIFE. A lifetime of experiences taints the screen through which we see, or as Anais Nin said, more poetically, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” so we might as well keep our eyes on our own plates and carry on.