From my experience, Western society provides a rather obvious and rigid script of how life is “supposed to” pan out: graduate from high school, head to university, find a job that allows you to financially support yourself, get married to your “soulmate,” have children, and help them follow this same path.
But what about those of us who aren’t going this route? What about those of us who are but feel like everyone around us is doing it better than us? How do we cope with this?
Truthfully, this is something I’ve been struggling with enormously lately. While friends of mine are getting married, buying houses, and/or getting promoted, I’m a broke student. Again.
Simultaneously, my significant other is in the same boat given that he applied to schools for the upcoming September term. In other words, both of us have found ourselves “off the beaten path," giving the self-absorbed side of me twice the opportunity to compare both myself and my relationship to those around me.
First Thing’s First: Zoom Out
It’s incredibly helpful to define what your metric is when it comes to measuring success—and where it came from. A lot of our ideas surrounding success stem from our upbringing. What did our parents/guardians seem to value? How did they know when they’d succeeded? What did “happiness” mean for them?
Next, what does the society say about success? I find ideas of success in the Western world largely revolve around materialism. Simultaneously, there aresocial scripts that provide ego-boosting “check marks” whenever they’re achieved depending on the context in which we live. Married by the age of 25? Check mark for you! Living out of your parents’ home in your late twenties? #WINNING! (And this is complicated by gender, race, and ethnicity, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)
What Do YOU Think?
The next (and far more important) question is: What do I think of these ideas?I’d argue this is one of the hardest questions to answer since it means challenging notions that has been repeated over and over to us. It can be incredibly jarring to take a step back and think, “Wait a minute! That thing I’ve been convinced is right all of my life? I don’t agree!” Then it’s a matter of sifting out why we don’t agree.
Realize that comparing yourself to others is a battle you’ll always lose.
There will always be people who have more money than you, who are skinnier than you, who have shinier hair than you, etc. Just consciously realizing that comparison is a losing battle can help stop you from going down a rabbit hole. When you feel yourself going there, just think to yourself, “You aren’t going to win this game!”
2. Compare—but to your former self.
Would you have been able to do what you’re doing now five years ago? Would you have been able to handle your current situation with the same tenacity or confidence then? Probably not!
Life isn’t always a level playing field. How does it make sense for me to compare my financial situation to that friend whose parents still pay for his or her phone bill? It doesn’t.
3. Ask yourself if you really want what you’re so desperately yearning for.
It’s far too easy to go on Instagram and feel inadequate when we see yet another person buying a house, yet another friend getting engaged, and yet another couple shacking up. But do you actually want those things? Do you really want to say no to every baked good that comes your way for that hot body? Maybe you don’t actually want those things right now, so why all the jealousy?
4. Realize you’re comparing yourself to an illusion.
We don’t ever know what goes on behind closed doors, which means we’re comparing ourselves to perceptions of a situation rather than reality. You may have experienced this before when that “perfect couple” you knew broke up or that super successful business mogul started having financial struggles. These are all moments where we realize things weren’t what they seemed and it happens all the time without our knowledge.
5. The world doesn’t need more of what other people are doing; it needs what YOU are doing.
There’s only one person who sees, feels, and understands things the way you do… YOU! So bring that to the world.
6. Look at the big picture.
One day you will have everything that feels so distant at the moment. Have a little patience and confidence in the meantime that things will work out eventually. And when they do, you’ll forget all about how long it took to get there, I promise.
7. Realize that some success can’t be measured.
Being a therapist has given me an intangible feeling of fulfillment but I don’t have anything to show for it; it’s just something I feel. How can I reasonably compare that to something that is tangible like a certain amount of money, the size of a house, or a brand of car? There might be certain things that are super important to you that are priceless and invisible, but that does NOT mean they’re insignificant.
8. No matter where you are, you’ll find another problem.
According to Buddhism, life is suffering, pain, and misery. As humans, we’re great at finding bad in the good, aren’t we? Let’s say you break up with someone who you wish were more career-oriented. Well, the next person you date holds one of the upper-level positions at a company, works his/her butt off, and rakes in a lot of dough as a result. But suddenly your S.O. never has time for you, you never feel like a priority, and you’re pretty lonely most of the time. New situation, new problems.
9. Remember what’s important.
Reflect back on what you truly value in life. If you’re living those things out, then chances are you have nothing to be ashamed of or disappointed about. If you value being a supportive and caring person, then isn’t living out those values more important than the age at which a tiny promotion happened?
10. March to the beat of your own drum—and put those blinders on.
If this is (naturally) hard for you to do, mirror someone who you think does this well. What would they say in this situation? How would they act? Channel them through yourself and before you know it, you’ll be a natural!
Play devil’s advocate with yourself and say, “What might other people envy about me?”
The Bottom Line
There’s a wonderful expression that says “comparison is the thief of joy” and it couldn’t be more accurate. Comparing ourselves to others is not only an unproductive use of time, but it also negatively impacts our self esteem and relationships. Remind yourself of what’s truly important to you and focus on living those values out. Remember that you’re comparing yourself to an illusion or perception of someone, not their reality. And finally, never forget that there’s there’s enough of everyone else in the universe; what’s missing is YOU. No one knows what’s best for you. No one knows why you’re choosing the path you have or why it’s important to you. March to the beat of your own drum and never feel bad about doing so. Ever.
You Tell Me!
What do you do when you catch yourself comparing yourself to others? Let me know in the comments below!