As a middle-aged man I have many friendships that span decades and it’s always interesting to look at where my friends are at. Some have great careers, some have great families, some have great careers and great families, and some have neither. Yes, I believe that life is what you make it, but of course chance impacts on your life as does luck. That’s not to say we can’t overcome bad luck or setbacks, and bounce back to be even more successful but everyone’s life journey is unique and special and it is hard to quantify or fully understand others … so be slow to judge!
However, when I look at my friends I realise that some were on a winning streak from the onset while others were on a downward spiral. I could easily look at my most brilliantly successful friends and feel inadequate but what would be the point of that? Do you compare yourself to others and at times end up feeling inferior? Do you know women who are top plastic surgeons, have four adorable children and in their spare time run marathons? Do you know male CEOs whose children are all studying law and on the weekends they raise millions in charity for the homeless? You are inevitably going to feel inadequate if you line yourself up next to super achievers.
The American psychologist Leon Festinger believes that comparing yourself to others motivates you to achieve more, yet most people find social and professional comparisons discouraging because there is always someone ‘better’ than you and always someone worse off. I think a more healthy way to ‘audit’ your life or assess how you are going is to look at the progress you have made over the years. Comparing ourselves to other people is dangerous and sometimes delusionary. Why? Well, here are a few reasons.
You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors
Someone may appear to have a perfect life, but you really don’t have the full picture. On social media people always put their best foot forward. They post up their perfect holiday snaps of them looking buffed on the beach or eating delicious meals at posh restaurants. The truth may be that they spent 12-months working out at the gym to get that body and they hate the gym! Or that they got severe food poisoning from that fish dinner, but they aren’t going to put that on Facebook. You never know the real truth about other people’s lives. You are only comparing yourself to what you believe is their reality.
We didn’t get equal starts in life
I am the child of migrants. I didn’t go to a posh school, I didn’t get sent to a blue-chip university to study law or medicine, but I’m not going to waste time grumbling about what I didn’t have instead I’m going to focus on achieving, being joyous and serving others today. Some people are born with advantages that other people don’t have. Some people are born with happy well-balanced parents who love and adore them. Some people are born with dysfunctional parents who are overly critical and manipulative. These people endure difficult childhoods then they devote the first 20 years of their life trying to figure out why they always feel depressed and their relationships never work out. Eventually they realise that they have a negative narrative playing in their head, instilled by their parents however they have the smarts to develop a winning mindset and then at 40 they go to work shaping the life they want. These individuals are going to find it hard to achieve what someone who had a loving family and great education is likely to achieve, but hey – it’s not over until the fat lady sings! Get out there, work hard and fulfil as much of your potential as you can. Never compare yourself to others because in life there is no even playing field. We all come from different homes and have different stories. We have all had different life experiences.
Comparisons lead to jealousy
If you are constantly lining yourself up against friends then you are going to struggle to celebrate their successes. You are instead going to think, “Damn, they are getting further ahead of me.” Life is about cherishing friendships and loving others, it’s not about jealousies and rivalries. Some of your friends are going to do better than you, some are going to fail. Your love needs to be unconditional. Your friends are who they are, and you are who you are. Resist the urge to compare yourself and genuinely celebrate friends’ wins and genuinely mourn friends’ disappointments. Be a true friend, not an enemy.
It’s only about your old-self versus your new or ‘emerging’ self
The only person you have a right to compare yourself to is the old-you (versus the new you.) Such comparisons will help you gauge whether or not you are achieving your goals. Have you written your long-term goals down? Do you have a life plan? What are your immediate goals? Have you achieved them this year, or have you just been running on the same spot? What realistic steps are you going to take to achieve your goals this month? Over the next three months? Over the next six months?
Comparing the old-you to the new-you is the best way of checking your progress. Were you doing better at the gym last month? Has your weight gone up? By comparing your old-self to your present-self you may be able to identify problems. If you are struggling at the gym there may be an underlying health problem and it’s time for a doctor’s check-up. Perhaps your online business has stalled because you are spending too much time watching TV? Again, comparing past landmarks with present ones helps you assess your progress. It is the only way to achieve your personal best. Comparing yourself to others just undermines your confidence.
Concentrate on self-improvement and forget about comparing yourself to other people. Comparing your old-self with your ‘emerging’ or new self is the only way to reach goals, and it also stops us from feeling jealous of friends’ successes or gloating over their failures. Ideally we want a community of true friends around us who are there to share and celebrate with us when we achieve. After all, what is the point of being successful if you have no one to share it with?
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.