“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
This has never rang more true than now. As a twenty-something, my current conversations and thought processes seem to always revolve around the “what am I doing with my life?” question. I am finding that within my circle of peers, someone is either landing a big-time job, traveling the world, attending graduate school, or questioning why they’re not doing any of these things. Social media newsfeeds can be an emerging adult’s biggest frenemy when it comes to keeping track of friends and colleagues. You want to know what someone is up to, but you secretly want to feel like you’re in a better spot than they are. (Oh I’m sorry, that must be my ego talking) That, or you want to justify your place in life by knowing that other people are in the same boat as you. Solidarity, anyone?
I have read countless blogs and articles on this comparison crisis rampant among college students and post-grads. Some have even called it the new OCD: over-comparison disorder. The problem with comparing is that other people’s situations are given a forefront to what progress and success should look like. This is a huge contentment sucker since we each have our own journey to fulfill that is constantly changing shape. Measuring where we are in life with another human being is like trying to shoot at a moving target. It’s frustrating and misaligned. There needs to be a way out of the “this is me” but “this is the world” limbo.
In fact, there is a way that is definitely worth trying. Here it is:
Live your life inside out.
That’s right. We’re about to get real soul-talky. Living life inside out? It means spending more time investing in your journey rather than living up to what others are doing in theirs. It means putting energy into nurturing what makes you unique, learning to not only identify but love your innate abilities and then having the willingness to improve the skills you choose to attain. Rather than absorbing the trends and timelines of your colleagues, observe what inspires you and take action at a pace that’s most beneficial to your own goals, whatever they may be. Identify insecurities and combat them by fostering positive thoughts about yourself and your future. Yes, living life inside out can be easier said than done, but it’s an approach that has a lot of support behind it. To establish some credibility here, Oprah (shout out to you, Oprah) mentioned this approach in a number of her interviews. Life coach and clinical psychologist Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus has even written a book about it with enough empirical research to calm any skeptics out there. Taking a note or two from these inspirers, I’ve learned that self-reflection can really be a gateway into self-acceptance.
So how does living inside out help us compare less and become happier? The first step is to acknowledge the comparisons you have with yourself and others. Say it with me: “Hi. My name is _______, and I am a comparer.” The next step is to shift your focus from the external, material, and visual to your unique personality, places and purpose. Ah, alliteration! Let’s call those the 3 P’s.
Personality: The collection of traits and tendencies that you exhibit to yourself and to the world.
Places: The non-geographical places of interest and value that your actions stem from. Maybe you come from a place of compassion or entrepreneurship or social justice or…
Purpose: Your calling. Your legend. Your reason. The string that threads through everything you do and what ties your beliefs and goals together. It’s your passion turned into action.
Every single person has a different combination of their 3 P’s. If you are able to focus on your 3 P’s you will learn to value them. You can cater your choices to a path that is tailored to who you are, rather than someone else. Don’t let someone else’s decision to join the Peace Corps or go to law school change your dream of launching your own startup. The next time you find yourself feeling uneasy about where you are in life because Person A is way ahead of you or Person B took a different route, realize that it’s because you come from different places, have different personalities, and each have your own special purpose.
A big chunk of this process is definitely learning to love and respect yourself fully so that you can in turn, emit that same positivity to those around you. There is something very freeing about allowing yourself to compare less and to appreciate more. So start within, share your abilities and dreams confidently, and embrace the abilities and dreams of your colleagues. It’s an ongoing process, this whole self-reflection thing, but let’s start at the core so that we can be so happy with ourselves that we are always happy for each other.
Image: David Goehring