Is the grass really greener?

“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.

5 responses to “Is the grass really greener?

  1. “You have to get strong enough to let your values override the value of the culture and the values of the corporation. You get strong enough to say, ‘Yeah, I know how the world defines success. But, you know, I’m too old and too smart and too accomplished to let anybody define success for me but myself.’” Anna Quindlen This one rings so true to me!

  2. Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about. This quote has always pretty much said it all for me.

  3. Much of this appreciation comes with age and experience. If I think back to my twenties and thirties (yes, it takes a while to re-wind the tape!) I can remember with clarity all the comparisons I made with friends, co-workers, and role models. Some inspired me to get busy doing what I wanted to do to become what (not who, yet) I wanted to be. Others made me feel bad for my apparent inadequacies.

    As life has unfolded, I have learned to appreciate wisdom, connections, and real contribution–indeed to appreciate WHO we are all capable of becoming, not just WHAT. Society has always emphasized the what; we have more of it than ever, thanks in part to technology and to an expanded global community. True life experience will always emphasize the who(m). Each of us has a contribution that only we can make. Discovering it and making it with joy punctuates a life of searching and growing.

  4. I am not sure who said this, but it ‘rings true’: “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strongly loyal to to performing daily acts of trivia. ” Are we doing things or accomplishing something? Are we impactful? Did we make a difference?

    In very large corporations, these questions often result in sort of a hopeless shrug of the shoulders. Maintaining a sense of ‘self’ is likely core to those who visibily succeed. Here’s characteristics I have observed:
    1-Leaders don’t have a need to ask for permission. They have an internal confidence that they thought things through.
    2-Leaders stand for what they beleive in and demonstrate this in all they do.
    3-Leaders [successful people] have the same/similar concerns, challenges, but they find a way to rise above them–no complaints, no excuses. While ‘right place, right time’ often has a play in one’s success, we have to remember true success is when they have ‘staying power.” This does not come from dumb luck.
    4-Leaders have an internal ‘beat’ they consistently march to. It may be worldly drive, spiritually derived or just bald fear of failure.

    Just some thoughts….obviously, this is not a simple topic.

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