Their Grass May Be Greener, But That’s Ok…
Desiree Anderson addresses the impact of our constant need to compare ourselves with others.
There’s a video on YouTube that I like to watch, every now and then, when I need a bit of perspective for my day-to-day worries. In it, Earth is displayed, looking big and impressive, then suddenly the camera pulls back to reveal Neptune, which is HUGE. Suddenly Earth looks tiny and insignificant. The video doesn’t stop there. The shot widens again to show Neptune’s size compared to Saturn. Saturn is vast, leaving Neptune looking small and Earth positively miniscule. This video goes on (and on) until you realise that there is always a bigger planet or star. Comparisons, although fun to see, become almost meaningless as the scale vastly increases.
For me, this video gives a healthy dose of cosmic insignificance to any worry I may have. It also reminds me of the futility of worrying too much about comparisons, because there’ll always be someone richer or more successful. Whatever metric you judge yourself by, it’s guaranteed there’s someone out there who’s a Neptune to your Earth.
A USEFUL REGULATOR
I’m not saying comparisons are a bad thing. Far from it. In many ways comparison with our peers is a useful regulator for our development. It’s through comparisons that we learn the behaviours, attitudes and boundaries of interaction expected within our immediate society. The thing is, with the advent of social media, we’re now able to compare ourselves with everyone on the planet 24/7. This, it may not surprise you, isn’t necessarily having a good effect on our productivity or mental health.
MADONNA & ME
When I was growing up, I’d mime in front of the mirror to the latest Madonna or Whitney Houston tracks. There was part of me that would have loved to have been a pop star and there’s probably still part of me that is slightly disappointed that wasn’t destined to be my role in life. Yet, this disappointment wasn’t majorly detrimental, it’s a feeling that’s shared by 99.99% of the population at some point. I don’t wake up in the morning and curse the fact I’m not Madonna – most days I do the opposite.
Yet, many of us do feel the negative side of a constant need to compare ourselves to those in our immediate vicinity and the virtual community of millions we inhabit through social media.
Why does Brian, down the road, have a nicer car than me?
Why is Margaret, next door, going on holiday more often than I do?
Why has Tim, at work, got thousands of Instagram followers, when I only have hundreds?
Why does Mel seem to be constantly enjoying herself in glamourous places, when I just work all the time?
If you feel that the grass is always greener, that a constant desire to compare yourself with others is having a negative effect on your life and productivity, I have some great tips to ease you out of this unhelpful mindset.
MAKE A LIST
- Set aside some time to make a list of the comparisons that are affecting how you live. What elements of other people’s lives do you feel are superior to your own existence?
- With a bit of thought, you’ll see that some things are only attractive in the abstract. A Ferrari would be nice for a day, but do you really want the hassle of keeping it safe, keeping up with the monthly repayments and keeping your cool with the constant attention it brings? Probably not.
- This exercise often leads people to realise that most of what they thought they wanted isn’t practical or useful. It will also leave a few more realistic goals to focus on in a targeted way.
EXAMINE YOUR PAST
- With a little reflection, we may discover many of the negative comparisons in our lives are caused by unhelpful expectations handed down to us by others. For example, our parents may have implanted goals into us that are no longer relevant to our day-to-day lives. The pressure to live up to the expectations of another culture or era is rarely helpful.
- Clearly understanding that you are your own person and not a vessel for someone else to achieve their vicarious goals is vital.
SEARCH FOR YOUR OWN PERSONAL JOY
- It’s so easy to forget how different we all are from one another. What brings you joy will rarely be the same as what provides it for me. Some find bliss doing woodwork in their garden shed, while others gain the same buzz from scaling a mountain or running a marathon. The important thing is to spend some time rediscovering what you really enjoy doing.
- For many, the activity that makes them happy is something they gave up along the way when other supposed priorities took precedence. Make this activity a regular and immovable part of your weekly routine. Soon you’ll find that directing your attention towards positive outcomes for yourself will make an unhealthy interest in the lives of others less compelling.
REMEMBER WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
- Finding yourself the recipient of other’s criticisms, opinions or expectations can be tough. The important thing to remember is how others interact with us is always a result of their own personal needs and aspirations. They are driven by a host of impulses – most of which you are totally unaware of.
- So, if someone sets out to make you feel inferior to them it’s probably because they’re feeling inadequate themselves, rather than a true reflection on anything you’re doing.
IN A NUTSHELL:
Constantly comparing yourself with others can leave you feeling like there’s a void in your own life – the grass always appears greener in your neighbour’s garden. The key to overcoming these concerns is to remember that your perspective on how others live isn’t necessarily the truth of their situation. Obsessing about others will not allow you to follow your own path and maximise your own gifts and legacy.
Instead of feeling jealous, try to focus on elements of what others have achieved that might have a positive impact on your life if you followed the same steps. Look back into your past and have a clear out of unhelpful expectations that are holding you back. Find things you love doing and put your energy into them, rather than into futile comparisons. And finally, remember nobody is perfect, those you admire may be driven by their own hidden feelings of inadequacy – so don’t judge a book by its cover.
There will always be someone who seems more successful than you, that’s a fact of life. Be happy for them. Your perception may not be close to the truth. Remember the YouTube video, Earth may seem small compared to Neptune, but that’s OK. Compared to Mars, Earth is massive.
The secret to life isn’t being the biggest and the best, it’s simply making the most of what you’ve got.
If you’d like to chat more about getting comparisons into perspective, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder, Crest Coaching & HR