One of the biggest sources of discontent is comparing yourself to other people.
Or comparing your life to what you see others doing (Instagram) or what you've accomplished compared to what others have done.
- “I wish I was more like him.”
- “Look at her! Why can’t I be more like that?”
- “Ugh, I just wish I had his life, or his smarts or his looks.”
We all do it; we’re humans, and thus we are hard-wired to compare ourselves to those around us, wondering why we don’t measure up.
Over the past few decades, thanks to the power of the internet (thanks, Al Gore!) and advances in science and technology, it’s pretty damn easy to find ways to feel inferior:
- Magazines, TV and the internet tell women that they’re not skinny enough or not pretty enough because they don’t look like runway models.
- The finance sector will tell us that we aren't maximizing our jobs potential or that our portfolios aren't performing well enough.
- Parenting magazines will tell us that we aren't creative enough or that we aren't giving our kids enough stuff.
- Your Facebook news feed will make us feel like our lives aren't exciting enough.
Whether you’re looking enviously at your best friends recent vacation, or feel inferior because someone you know has a higher paying job or has a better-looking resume, I'm here to tell you there's only one true comparison that needs to be made.
Although it’s easier said than done (I know this all too well), this change is going to remove tons of anxiety, lift a huge burden off of your shoulders, and allow you to RELAX and achieve your potential.
Let’s do this. It will make you a better PA, or pave the road to achieving your goal of becoming one.
Bigger, Faster, Stronger…Better?
Several years ago I watched a documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger. This is an incredibly well-done documentary that takes an in-depth look at the fitness industry, bodybuilders, health marketing, supplements, and more. It follows the director’s shifting mindset about steroids, as he’s chosen NOT to take them, but has two brothers that take them regularly.
This particular clip from the documentary jumped out at me, as it showed just how the fitness industry specifically creates advertisement campaigns to make you feel inferior:
We all compare ourselves to others, and it’s nearly impossible for us to make these comparisons and still think we’re good enough.
Chris Bell, the director in Bigger, Faster, Stronger, talks about how his feeling inadequate lead him to try steroids; his two brothers ON steroids do them regularly because they are never big enough or strong enough.
But, you are comparing yourself to a fantasy, an illusion, and of course, the reality of your life (and who you are) comes up wanting.
This exercise is worse than useless — it’s harming you because you are less content as a result of the comparison.
The Happiness Equation
This video above highlights the difficulties we all have in being happy. It comes down to two issues:
- We compare ourselves to others and identify our shortcomings without having all of the information.
- We naturally assume that this other person is happier, more successful, and better at life than we are.
Believe it or not, there’s an equation that we can use to determine our level of unhappiness. Simply put, as the image of ourselves gets further and further away from reality, we become less and less happy:
Unhappiness = Image – Reality
We have an image in our minds for what we expect of our lives. We spend our days working to improve our health and lives, week after week, and we’re distraught to find out that we’re not much closer to the image we have in our minds.
We’re unhappy because our expectations (which are distorted, lacking complete information) don’t line up with the reality we currently see.
I find people comparing themselves to me all the time: they want to be able to write as creative an essay, or speak Spanish, have a condensed workweek, or be as short. (OK, the last one isn't true.)
Of course, they are comparing themselves to a fantasy. In real life, I’m not what they think I am. And in reality, no one you see is what you think they are — you only see certain parts of the story, the good parts, and rarely see the person’s doubt and anguish and discontent.
People don’t share their warts and hemorrhoids, just the great pictures of their food and vacation and children.
And as I mentioned before: you’re comparing yourself to a fantasy, an illusion, and of course, the reality of your life (and who you are) comes up wanting.
I LOVED this story from James Altucher:
Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, once was at a party in the Hamptons. A guy came over to him and pointed at a young, 25-year-old standing in the party who worked for a big hedge fund. Heller’s “friend,” said to him, “see that guy over there? He made more money last year then you will ever make with all of your books combined.”
Joseph Heller said, “Maybe so. But I have one thing that man will never have.”
His friend was skeptical. “Oh yeah, what?”
Heller said, “Enough.”
If your goal is contentment, you need to adjust that unhappiness equation.
- Whenever you find yourself comparing the good parts of someone else’s life to the bad parts of yours, or thinking what you could be doing instead, stop yourself. Just stop. You are actively hurting yourself, and that’s not a compassionate act.
- Instead, look at what you’re doing right now, and be happy with that. What you’re doing now can be (and probably is) amazing. Appreciate the gift of this moment. It’s a miracle.
Draw the comparison
I’m going to ask you to join me in a ridiculous fruit metaphor:
Imagine you are an organic Fuji apple (stay with me here), and you want to be the best Fuji apple you can be. You’re in the store, hoping to get noticed, and you see a lady come in and buy five non-organic Red Delicious apples. You’re bummed out, you’re wishing you were noticed, and so you start to wonder why you can’t be more like Mr. Red Delicious. You work out, you start taking apple improvement classes, and you become the best Fuji apple in the whole bunch.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you will never be a Red Delicious apple. No matter how good you think you are, you’ll never live up to that image of “Red Delicious” that you have in your mind.
Keep measuring yourself against impossible standards, and you’ll end up feeling angry, inferior, and disappointed.
Stop comparing your apple to her orange, understanding that at the end of the day, we’re all unique pieces of fruit.
Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. So find those that are dealing with similar life situations (married? kids? single? crazy job?). Don’t “compare and envy,” but rather “learn from and get inspired.”
- If you are a single mom with three kids, don’t take your tips from 25-year-old actresses – learn from other moms that are a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
- If you are a young student, trying to build the experience needed to get into PA school. Don't rely on a guidance counselor who may have no idea what we do as a profession. Instead, find a PA who you admire, ask a question and see what you can learn from him.
So, if you’re just LEARNING from these people who have succeeded, who CAN I compare myself to?
You Versus You
There’s only one person you can honestly compare yourself to yesterday’s version of you.
This comes down to one key phrase:
Can you be better today than you were yesterday?
Don’t worry about what other people are doing, their grades, or how perfect their life may seem. That’s a distorted image – a false, unobtainable standard that you cannot hold yourself to. Your life is different from theirs.
Instead, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “What’s one thing I can do today to be closer to my goal than yesterday? What’s one thing today that I am grateful for?” Seriously. Go talk to yourself in the mirror right now. Preferably in a crowded public bathroom.
Stop focusing on what you don’t have and start focusing on things you can change. Take personal responsibility and be the master of your destiny.
Don’t Worry, be Happy
In the incredibly thought-provoking book, Predictably Irrational, we learn that we tend to base our self-worth and happiness using relativity. Regardless of how happy we are, when we see somebody happier or more successful than us, suddenly we become less happy or wonder why we’re not more successful.
As Mr. Altucher stated above, it’s easy to get caught up in more, better, and bigger - never being satisfied with enough.
Instead, focus on you:
1) Don’t believe the hype: Whenever you find yourself comparing the good parts of someone else’s life to the bad parts of yours, or thinking about what you could be doing instead, stop yourself. Just stop. You are actively hurting yourself, and that’s not a compassionate act.
2) Remove the temptation for unhealthy comparison. Stop subjecting yourself to advertising, stop reading stupid magazines, stop idolizing celebrities, and stop putting yourself in situations where your only option is to feel inferior. Look at your particular situation as unique; focus on making YOU better.
3) Adjust your happiness equation by celebrating the reality you DO have, rather than lamenting the one you don’t. Be grateful. At the end of every day, write down three things that were awesome that day and why. This has been proven to make you happier.
4) Compare yourself to YOU from yesterday. Identify one thing you can do today to move closer to your goals, and celebrate when you do that thing.
We never know the true story about and how some people got to where they are, so stop comparing yourself to them.
-Stephen Pasquini PA-C