One day he had it enough. The last straw broke his back. Despite knowing what he saw on social media was just one Photoshopped facet of a person’s life, he couldn’t stop from comparing. He cribbed, cribbed and cribbed his heart out. “Am I a loser?” he asked me. Knowing him, I knew he wasn’t. I sympathized with him. Talking to him, I confessed that even I fall into this trap often. Ten, fifteen years back your friends’, acquaintance success was something you came to know when you met them or through someone, and you thought about it for sometime, you’d either be happy or jealous and move on. It was easy to forget. But, nowadays, social media is in your face. It’s difficult to forget. Everyday we see one or the other friend scuba diving, posing before the London eye or at the Niagara, buying a new car, a new house, partying in a pub, getting promoted, starting a new company, retiring to a villa. With all this happening around us, we against our best judgement end up comparing our lives with them, even when we know that all of it was not done by one person, and analyze our life against theirs’. We fall short and end up feeling miserable.
So, is avoiding social media the solution? If it is, is it not like burying our head in sand and wishing the problem to go away?
This comparison is not limited to what we see in social media. We see young actors rise to fame from nowhere, becoming rich young, rags to riches stories, people profiting from ill-gotten gains, luck favoring a few and we always wonder why something like that never happens to us. To sum it, we sing to ourselves “Aise vaison ko diya hai, mujh ko bhi tu lift karade”. We honestly believe we are better and deserve success than them. But, no matter how much we crib or beat ourselves, life will not change and comparing ourselves with others only makes it unbearable. Life works in mysterious ways and luck is too fickle to count on. We never know why some succeed and why some fail. And, all we can do is do something with what’s in our hand. A few points I remind myself when I fall into this trap.
We are the sum of our pasts – We are who we are based on our surroundings, upbringing, families, and our decisions. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, ‘Outliers’ points out that, Bill Gates was successful because he had access to the right equipment at the right time at the right age and so could spend time on them to master his field which helped him become who he is today. We might not have had the opportunity someone else is having or we might not have been ready when it presented. There can be multiple factors why things worked for someone but not for us. These are not in our hands. Though it is just escapism to completely attribute our success and failures to our surroundings it is also futile to fight against it. We are after all, prisoners of our birth.
Life does not reward you based on potential/character – We’ve been raised to believe, if you are worth it, you’ll get it. It need not be true. If that was, all jobs should go only to knowledgeable PHDs. And, only giants like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and others should be rich. But, we know that’s not the case and I don’t think that will ever be the case.
Define success – What is success to you? Is it owning a house? a car? a managerial job? a good bank balance? if not these then what is? Define it clearly. But, remember defining success does not mean you’ll have it. It is just a plan. A guide. Call it a ‘Success list’.
(There’s an additional responsibility on married people. Our success list should incorporate what success means to both the partners. Sometimes, you both may agree on what you want to achieve in life, sometimes, you don’t. A healthy debate/discussion on what is to be included needs to happen and a shared success list formulated and then start working one at a time.)
Success varies from person to person. As a college student who attended a lecture session organized by a top company I felt the speaker was a successful individual. Few years down the lane when I went as a speaker to another college, I was aware there’ll be a few students who would be thinking I was successful. But, was I? Define what you want and work towards it – one step at a time.
Do dreams need money? Take a look at your dreams list/success list. How many of them require money? I’m pretty sure not all of them will. Then, what is stopping you from making those happen? And, if they do require money – Unless we come from a pretty rich family or have proper financial backing with no responsibilities, we may not realise all our dreams. So choose wisely. I’m not discouraging. It’s just plain economics. Opportunity cost – if we spend money realizing one dream we may not have to money to spend on the other.
Understand life’s not a running race – There will be no one at the end of the line to check and rate our life on how much we accumulated or how fast we accumulated stuff or how much we experienced in life. There will be no forced ranking or relative comparisons done and ratings given. There will be no one to tell whether we lived a successful life or not. Life’s not a running race. When there’s no common definition of success or common ground where we started from, based on what do we think we’ll be compared? So, relax, calm down. Find your pace, your rhythm. Work in the speed comfortable to you – one dream at a time.
You are not a loser – just because you couldn’t do all that your friends did. You are fundamentally different. Everyone is. With your dreams list in front of you try living the life you wanted. You may or may not tick off every item on that list. But, that’s not the point. To quote Booker T. Washington, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
These are certain things I tell myself when I catch myself comparing to others. How do you fight this trap? If you care to share, leave your thoughts in the comments.