“You know, I would be just fine if I just wouldn’t compare myself to everyone else” a colleague lamented to me the other night. This person (don’t want to assign gender as this goes both ways), by many peoples’ measures, ‘has it all’ – monetarily successful, happily married, has two precious, well adjusted children, healthy, and lives a thriving professional and personal life. However, seeing others the same age who are ‘more’ successful; aka: have more money, have more recognition, achieved more fame, have contributed more – causes them to not feel good about self, work, ‘station’ in life or ‘life’ in general. As long as they feel ‘on top of the heap’, they feel ‘better than’…..i.e.: secure that ‘grass is greener.’
Why do all of us – at one time or another – compare ourselves to others, as if ‘they’ have the inside track on what the ‘standard’ for our own lives should be?
What I want to offer in this week’s blog is my concern that this pariah of ‘outdoing the Jone’s’ grows more prevalent in every area of our lives – not just as in ‘my house is bigger than your house’; but, in every aspect of our lives from physical fitness/thinness to financial success to even spiritual growth….and again, the list goes on. So, how do we, or should we, evolve past the gnawing need to out do others? Does this process of comparison help or hurt us as we navigate our lives? Is it possible to thrive, contribute, and grow individually – while using other peoples’ lives as the benchmark? What is enough?
A few thoughts on this:
First, I am not so sure that, in and of themselves, some comparisons and contrasts in our lives are not helpful to us as we go through life. Often when I fall prey to ‘looking over my shoulder,’ this process serves as a catalyst to my own growth, sense of discipline or even as a solution to my own procrastination. In addition, if I am really honest with myself, the comparisons become not the yardstick but, in some ways, serves as my compass as to what is really important. What other’s have, I simply may not want; or want badly enough to do what I would need to do to get them. These two observations can be a powerful combination. Talk about truth serum!
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book: Eat, Pray, Love, she quite provocatively recounts her experiences of self-discovery through her travels through Italy, India and Indonesia. I loved this book – if you haven’t read it – read it! It is hysterical, insightful and real. Anyway, there is a sentence in this book: “Life’s metaphors are God’s instructions.” This statement really spoke to me – as I tend to think metaphorically anyway.
To me, this meant that life’s experiences, both the simple and the complex, are revealing my own unique journey. The path may not, in fact will not, be the same as anybody else’s. It may not be ‘enough’ for someone else; it will be more than enough for me. So, what is the result of measuring against something that by the vary nature will be different?
Some of my colleagues, at this point, are no doubt reading and ‘hemming and hawing’ or rolling their eyes on the content of this blog. They will scratch this up to ‘woo woo’ ramblings- not suited for a business oriented blog. However, what I will offer to these folks is this:
a) In my professional and personal conversations over the years seldom does the concern of comparison, competition, and contrast NOT come up when a person is ‘weighing’ their success – by any metric they choose. There is reality in this ‘out-doing the Jone’s’ scenario – and we see it in most areas of our lives from careers, children, financial success, etc.. When is it ever ‘enough’? Ignoring these feelings, or acting like they aren’t there, will not make them go away. I suggest that by embracing them and channeling that energy will.
b) In addition, never does the process of ‘comparing’ to another ever fill the void of ‘worthiness’ of ‘my grass being greener’ for any long-term fulfillment. Because there is always a person with more, or with less, by any metric or benchmark chosen; and their paths are undeniably going to be different. The comparisons, by themselves, only confuse the real issue. Yes, comparing and contrasting can serve as catalysts and compasses for our choices. However, perhaps that is the real serum – they help us see with fresh perspective how green the entire field can be for all of us and help to determine our unique direction for our individual lives.
c) A final observation. This weekend over lunch, I asked a very dear and wise friend how he has dealt with comparing himself to others over the course of his life. He said, “You know, Kristin, the older I have gotten the more I have tried to be a human being not a human doing. Comparing, competing, stressing and worrying….it just wasn’t the path I wanted. I want to be present in the moment; enjoy, give, love, learn, through every experience. The rest just takes care of itself.” What a peace of mind he has. And yes, by his measures, he is successful and it is ‘enough’.
Krishnamurti, a renowned writer and speaker on philosophical subjects in the mid-1900’s, in one of his many books: The Book of Life: Daily Meditations with Krishnamurti states a most profound awareness for this last point:
“When one can clarify the confusion within oneself, then one will find what the purpose of life is; all that you have to do is to be free from those causes that bring about the confusion.”
It is up to each one of us to dissolve the confusion in our own lives. Validation through another person’s ‘less green grass’ is not the answer. Revelation through our own unique, differentiated, aligned self is.