How often do you compare yourself to other's success and life journey?
Over the years, I've done that a lot. It's human nature to compare ourselves to what people decide to show us about their lives. With social media, the proliferation of all the good things are even more visible. However, the truth is that we as a society still don't openly show the downs, the challenges and the struggles that we may all go through as a human being. Which in turn makes most of think we are not normal because most of human society looks like they don't face emotional and mental challenges.
Counterintuitively, as a child, I used to look forward to reading the Indian Express every weekend. My dad used to show me the section of kids who were really smart and winning awards. Over time, I wanted to read about them myself as I thought it would inspire me to be smart like them. (Side note: I was smart enough to pass my classes with A's and B's by listening to the teacher in class and doing my homework. I guess I could have done better if I actually did all the reading and extra work prescribed by the teacher.) I started comparing myself with these kids who were written about in the paper in my early teens.
Over time, as I graduated high school and went to college, I continued to compare myself with others my age and wanted to have the success or good life they had. However, I was always a free spirit and even though I went down the corporate path and had some success, I always felt like I didn't fit in and this wasn't what I wanted to do. I did meet amazing people who became mentors, bosses and friends and worked on a few projects along the way that really engaged and inspired me. However, I needed more. In my early 30's, my nomadic personality helped me engage with people outside of my corporate circles. I was exposed to people who were building the future - artists, creative thinkers and tinkerers. They engaged my emotional and mental need for variety of thought and different perspectives. These folks didn't live their life worrying about quarterly numbers / sales / targets etc.
It was eye opening because I had been comparing my life with a very small subset of the world - Business people. Not so much doctors and engineers (which BTW almost all Indian parents said you were supposed to be, except mine). Over the next 8 years, I went through a transformation that helped me start defining my success and fulfillment based on owning myself and not comparing against others.
I enjoyed the structure of the corporate environment, the people and some of the projects. However, my brain was wired to build today for the future and most roles I had required quarterly targets that hit the bottom line. I had a few leaders who saw that in me and gave me roles that allowed me to be creative and future forward but over time those roles were harder to find. Which eventually led me to leaving the stability of the corporate world to be on my own. Meeting others along the way, showed me that I could eventually find success in doing work that engaged me and that didn't quite fit in the traditional corporate structure.
Interestingly enough, it also opened my eyes to the other side of comparing. Of course we as individuals compare ourselves to others but have you thought of the implication of what you post on social media and how that is affecting others. We know the comparing ourselves most of the times doesn't lead to great joy. If anything we start doubting our own confidence, thoughts, ways of working and ideas.
When I went on sabbatical I started hearing people tell me that they were jealous of the life I was leading. All they saw was the travel and not the struggles. They didn't see the instability of not having a paycheck come in every two weeks, the toll travel (even good travel) takes on the body but also mentally and emotionally, the aloneness of having everything be unknown. Yes I could deal with many of these things more than others but it was still a struggle. I didn't put the challenges online to show that I was human and could have my own mental / emotional meltdowns doubting my own thoughts and confidence. However, after 6 months I stopped posting much about my travels. I didn't know how to show the challenges so I decided to stop showing the good things also. I didn't want to internally feel like I was showing only one side of the journey.
I respect and appreciate people and their stories. In many ways, I live to interact with people and support / guide them in their life journey. If I wanted to affect people, I needed to show both sides of the coin. I needed to stop comparing myself with others. I'm not perfect so I still do but its very rare. It's taken a lot of internal self awareness to get to the point I'm at right now and its not an easy process. It's intense, it's emotional (yes crying was involved), it's a lot of alone time, it's mentally draining but it's allowed me to be stronger, as my own self and think twice about comparing. When I start to compare I tell myself that I don't know the whole story - I am not seeing both sides of the coin for that individual and it's not right for me to compare myself.
The world is changing and as much as technology and social media is and will continue to be a part of our lives, we need to think about what we are doing to ourselves and to those around us.
- Do we truly see both sides of our own journey and are we open enough to share it with others?
- When we are comparing do we know everything about that person?
- Why do we compare ourselves to others and what will we gain from it?
- Are we seeing our own weaknesses and focusing on those instead of looking at our individual strengths when we compare ourselves?
- What does comparing ourselves do to the relationships of people close to us that we are comparing against?
- Can we flip the coin to letting comparing ourselves become inspiration versus demotivation that we aren't enough?
Next time, you compare yourself to others or decide to put one side of the story out there, think through some of these questions and try to see the implications of comparison.
Originally published on Linkedin on February 21, 2020.
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