I came across a quote earlier this week by Tim Kreider, who said something to the effect of: “We only get one shot at life, and once you reach a certain age, every one of your peers gives you a “glimpse of the parallel universes” that would have resulted had you made different choices.”
This really resonated with me, especially in regards to social media. So many of us closely follow the lives of our friends and family, often wondering what our lives would have been like if we’d take the same path as them (for good or ill). People refer to this as “comparisonitis” — when we measure our lives to those of others, especially successful people. The downside of this is feelings of inadequacy with our own lives — a feeling that we’ve somehow failed. I know I’ve been guilty of this.
We see our friends jet-setting around the globe, attending fancy parties with gorgeous people at their sides. They chat about their high-powered careers and expensive purchases. While I do find it fun to have a peek at the lives of our loved ones, the key thing to remember, however, is that people on social media show only the best and most “perfect” aspects of their life. They may not be posting about their cheating partner, mean-spirited boss, or the high mortgage on their McMansion that leaves them little money for much else.
We got so caught up in all of the “glamorous” posts that we forget that we’re only seeing the good, not the bad (and everyone has some “bad” going on in their lives). Sure, it may appear as though the grass is greener on the other side, but again, we only see one side of the story.
It’s also important to remember that we’re all different. For example, why compare yourself to a successful computer programmer when you have little aptitude for computers? Or to a high-level accountant if you’re rubbish with numbers? It’s like comparing apples and oranges.
While comparing ourselves to others can help to increase our motivation and inspire us to achieve our goals, it also can instill feelings of inadequacy. It can give us feelings of self-doubt, shame, anxiety, and even self-loathing. Our mind jumps down the rabbit hole of toxic thoughts, sometimes leaving us paralyzed. It can have severe effects on our mental health, leading to anxiety and depression.
I hate to admit that there have been times when I’ve felt that I’d taken the wrong path in life. I thought that if I had stuck with the corporate world, I would be in a much stronger financial situation than I was in. But then I reminded myself of how much I hated the corporate environment and how working for myself has provided me with different types of opportunities.
I’ve found that the first step in combatting “comparisonitis” is in recognizing it. When these feelings of inadequacy have arisen in the past, I decided to take action instead of having regrets. If at any point I felt that I was unhappy with my current path, I took that energy and directed into taking concrete action towards my goals and dreams. I’ve always said that focusing on the past does no good whatsoever — it’s only the “now” that matters. If you don’t like the trajectory of your current life, then change it. I recall someone once said that your life is like a play – if you don’t like the way it’s going, write a new script.
I also find it helpful to scale back on social media, given that because of it, it is easier than ever to compare ourselves. What’s especially heart-wrenching is that our children and teens are falling into this same trap. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I believe this to be true, whether you are an adult or a child.
So if this happens to you, know that you’re not alone. While it’s fantastic to have role models and be inspired by others, we need to be careful not to enter into comparisonitis territory. And if we do, recognizing it is the first step and shutting it down. And most importantly, remember that you are enough.