“To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.” ~Sven Goran Eriksson
Endlessly comparing ourselves to others and idealizing their best qualities while underestimating our own are self-defeating behaviors, and they hurt our self-esteem. Yet in the competitive nature of our world, many of us do this.
As a result of my own self-defeating thoughts, throughout my life, I’ve repeatedly felt like I was five years behind where I “should” be.
After high school graduation, many of my peers went away to school and into a new wave of social experiences.
I stayed home, worked, and went to see a lot of bands play, and when I started gaining more life experience of my own, I felt like I was in catch-up mode and ashamed that I hadn’t gotten some of these experiences out of the way earlier.
I had a rocky college career, bouncing between, in, and out of schools, finally completing my English degree when I was twenty-five and feeling absolutely no further toward a career than I had before I’d started.
Attracted to web development because it offered the possibility of working remotely, I learned on the side and eventually landed a job at a small web shop. I was twenty-eight, but felt behind compared to those who had their career paths charted early on, and stacked resumes.
I decided to start freelancing with only one solid client and hoped that I’d be able to sustain myself enough to stay location independent.
After a few years of this, though I still loved the flexibility freelancing offered, I started feeling the need for my work to not only provide for myself, but to also contribute something positive to the world. Now in my mid thirties, I feel like I need to reevaluate again, but compared to others whom are solidifying relationships and buying property, I feel behind.
In the examples above, I’m comparing my path to others that aren’t my own.
If you can relate, try reframing these thoughts as a more accurate reflection of yourself and celebration of your own personal journey.
What did you want? Often when we compare ourselves to others, we are comparing ourselves to an ideal that might appear to be favored by society, media, or whatever, but it’s really not that interesting to us.
After high school, I remember distinctly not wanting to go away to school and thinking dorm life was a manufactured environment that didn’t represent real life. I wanted to hang out with my best friend and go see live music.
As I’ve become more self-aware, I’ve realized my anti-dorming position probably reflected my high levels of social anxiety and that the experience, though difficult at times, would have had a positive impact, though I would have probably missed a lot of awesome shows.
What you wanted from life then might not be what you want now, and that’s okay because throughout life, we change and gain insight. The decisions you made likely reflected where you were in life at that point. Maybe it was the “right” decision or maybe it wasn’t, but celebrate yourself either way.
Look at the positive side of your life path. Read between the lines and don’t focus on the negatives of what you didn’t do.
When I was fourteen, my father took me to England for a couple weeks and it left me with a lasting desire to enjoy traveling beyond the confines of the “paid time off” policies at many jobs in the United States.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of school, so it’s probably no surprise that while I bounced between academic institutions, I also spent some of that time period traveling abroad and hence, nurturing and developing a huge part of who I am.
Choices made to appease what you perceive others think you should be doing, rather than what nurtures you, are self-negating. And though they may seem like shortcuts, they will often not bring you any closer to fulfillment.
Focus on what your unique cocktail of nurture and nature enabled you to accomplish.
While others found their career path early, I was sweating inside the back of a 3,000-cubic-foot truck, working 5am merchandising shifts at a major retailer with a group of people that ended up feeling like a family, and I know I will stay in touch with some of them for the rest of my life.
The work felt honest and the people even better, and those are two of the most valuable things in life to me.
While others were sculpting their career, networking, and building relationships, spurred on by my earlier travels, I started to freelance and accomplished a lifelong dream of working remotely abroad.
I took an extended trip to Europe and two years later, did the same thing in South America. While my career development suffered most likely, accomplishing this goal was a priority, and I created memories that I will always cherish.
Take a moment and you can probably think about when you took a less traveled road and accomplished something beautiful.
Celebrate what you love about your personality and how those qualities have contributed to your life experience.
It’s easy to confuse what you want to work on with those qualities that you’re quite happy with.
If I go to a large social gathering, the introvert in me will spend time processing, observing, and taking everything in. I can be pretty quiet initially, but I’m okay with this because the attributes that make me identify as an introvert also have enabled me to form deep friendships, be sensitive to others and the world around me, and to feel on a very deep level.
At that same social gathering, I might be hanging out in a small group listening when I think of a relevant story that I’d love to share, but social anxiety renders me quiet because I’m afraid my storytelling will not hold their attention.
Introversion and social anxiety can sometimes be confused, but they are different concepts. Being introverted has enabled me to experience life in a unique way, but only social anxiety has held me back at times from participating in life like I want to.
Sometimes, two aspects of yourself produce similar symptoms. When you make the decision to work on a behavior, make sure that you’re targeting the right one.
I still catch my mind comparing myself to the ideals we are constantly subjected to by society and feeling like I will never catch up. But then I center myself and realize I’m comparing myself to an ideal that is not necessarily applicable to me, and that I need to stay true to my own path. Life is much more personal, complex, and nuanced.
Perhaps there are times when you feel five years behind. But really, you’re constantly learning about yourself and sculpting a life that is a reflection of that, and that’s exactly where you need to be.
Celebrate the path of others but most importantly, celebrate your own, because you’ve likely been living a pretty honest existence all along.
Photo by h.koppdelaney