You don’t have to be like someone else, despite your failures and their greatness.
The lie we tell ourselves everyday is that in order to achieve our goals we have to change and become someone else. Everyone wants to conquer the world. So we look at those who did it and we try to mimic them. We try to measure up to them and compare our lives, but such comparisons are skewed and false. Our lives are results of countless different types of factors and components that make up our life stories, our backgrounds, our abilities, our ideals, values and so on. Therefore any comparisons are negligible because there are too many factors affecting who we are. Although it is okay to look in the ways we are different to other people, we should not compare ourselves to others based on the criteria of who’s better or worse. Comparisons should not be about hierarchy because hierarchy has negative connotations. Our lives should never be about changing who we are, instead we should focus on the evolution of our best-self. Only when we ‘dominate our lane’ and focus on our work, we will become who we want to be.
University is not a land for lonely people, with the availability of so many opportunities, events, free time and potential friendships. However, if we don’t keep up with the pace and rigor of the student life – we will be left out. In a place where inclusion and involvement are the predominant principles some are left to the wolves. It is somewhat comical and sad that the university campus can generate so much happiness, but at the same act as a catalyst for the torment of loneliness.Therefore, we are concerned about how we measure up against others in the hierarchy of student life. On one hand, comparisons help us to gauge our progress and see where we are in our lives and lets us understand our strengths and weaknesses. Comparisons can even inspire us to make better decisions and to spur us into action. We may look at the success of our friends and be motivated to join more societies, enjoy more nights out or simply become more relaxed and outgoing. On the other hand, comparisons demolish our faith in ourselves and undermine our efforts. When we struggle, we look at others and think they are thriving and we are failing, miserably. Our efforts seem futile, our confidence in ourselves waivers and we create a false illusion of our reality.
Comparisons to other students may prevent us to see the hope that exists out there. If we spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses, we will start to embody and overemphasize them. Worse, we will start to believe our own inferiority and our mindset will become negative. Our lack social skills; shyness; quietness, physical appearance, academic skills etc. does not have to become major obstacles in our lives but rather a small part of our overall personal design.We all lack something. Some may lack height or weight, some will lack social skills. You may be terrible at singing, while others will be terrible at cooking. The list of imperfections and weaknesses can be endless but only when we define weaknesses as our main characteristics – we start to give them power.
If imperfections become the key focus of our mind, it helps to take a step back and re-evaluate ourselves from an unbiased perspective. For example, one’s lack of academic success can’t nullify the dancing abilities; one’s lack of strong friendship does not mean he/she is unkind or unfriendly etc. There is more to us than a single habit, flaw or a weakness. More importantly, we need to realize that every-time we falter we tend to forget what we have previously achieved. Our past success is taken for granted or written off as something that no longer matters. There is a menace in comparisons because they pretend to be solid and sincere, but most often they are just tricksters that misguide us off our path. Only when comparisons cease to dominate our thoughts, we begin to see what we really are; what we really want; we start developing and appreciating the real us.
Perhaps we should begin to measure our progress against our past success. We should be focused on our own performance assessed against our goals and our abilities. It is us who wee need to be most concerned about and where all of our focus and energy should go. It is our future self who we need to chase and compare ourselves against – not anyone else. There are dangerous (psychological) consequences if we constantly judge our progress to those of others: smart, popular, accomplished young people from loving families […] taking their own lives in unprecedented numbers […] to be the “best” (see Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection). When we seek to be like others, we forget what we are like ourselves. Comparisons become shackles that trap us in our darkest moments and provide us with more tools to sabotage ourselves.
Websites like Instagram, Facebook etc. help to construct fake realities of what life ‘should be’. It exhibits manufactured moments, fake lives and misrepresents the reality of traveling, partying, exercising, studying, appearance and other normal, routine activities that a lot of individuals engage in (See The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others). These routine activities are (over-)romanticized and ‘sexualized’ in the social media. The content is, for the most part, carefully and specifically orchestrated and constructed that even the most ‘accidental’ and ‘unplanned’ photographs seem to represent a type of enforced and imposed perfection. This is the truth about the social media we are aware of but we still buy into the lives portrayed online. In essence, sites like Facebook, Instagram should not be blamed or boycotted for the types of the content posted – it is people who create the content and it is people who view that same content. It is our responsibility to draw healthy comparisons between our life and the content of the sites. Perhaps if we realize that the content is constructed of highlights of the best moments (which are often staged) in a rather dull and mundane life, we start to appreciate the beauty of our daily routines.
The case of Essena O’Neill should speak loudly for the dangers of social media, especially about the subject of appearance for women. She describes social media platforms (notably Instagram) as “contrived perfection made to get attention”. It is a means for us to seek validation, acceptance, even ‘perfection’ in our (mundane and average) lives. If we create the content – it provides us with the tools to feel popular and important yet lonely and fake. The number of followers on our account becomes an obsession and the number of photographs one needs to take to get the ‘perfect shot’ becomes frustrating – and all done in the name of what (See The ugly truth behind my perfect Instagram shots: A model confesses)? There are better ways to achieve the things we want without the pressures and insecurities of social media. If we view the content, how does it make us feel? How is it supposed to make us feel (See Does social media impact on body image?). Perhaps the problem with the social media is that it lacks depth, meaning, intimacy and even context – there is too much narcissism (See Never mind Facebook bragging, INSTAGRAM is the most depressing social network due to the smug photos we post ). It can affect our body image; can make us feel inferior, inadequate; make us feel like failure and harm our overall emotional make-up. The same hypothesis can be applied to the obsessions with celebrities, reading gossip magazines etc. However, the fascination with celebrities and their lifestyles/looks is normal and natural as long as we recognize the teams of stylists, make-up artists, gym instructors, photographers, photo editors, dieticians, beauticians, managers, financial resources etc. behind their looks and media portrayals.
Also, comparing our failures (or day-to-day life) with someone’s (major) successes is foolish and plain ignorant. We only tend to see the triumphs, the award and graduation ceremonies, the celebrations when all the work is done – and we compare our progress to those brief moments of triumph. How easy it is to look at the award celebrations and feel inadequate that our progress has not earned us the recognition we crave? However, we are comparing someone’s success with our lack of success – two different things. We forget to ask: how many takes it took to get that particular scene right? How many drafts it took for the writer to get that chapter the way he/she wanted it? How many hours of practice and training it took for an athlete to win a gold medal? The road to success is not built on award ceremonies and celebrations but on hard and invisible work. Award ceremonies are the briefest moments, in the entire duration of the process, at the end of our journey. It’s the stuff that we don’t see that gets us where we want to go.
All the late nights we have stayed up to study; all the evenings we stayed in to finish our work when everyone else went out; all the training sessions, lectures, seminars we have attended; all the people we have helped; all the kind words we have said to other people; all the effort we have put in our lives so far – all of that matters. Remember that.
Comparisons don’t have to be negative, but very often they are. The message I tried to portray here is simple: be obsessed with (self) improvement. Stop looking at other people; stop looking at what you don’t have and start looking at what you can do with what you have – because you have more than enough. The only thing you should do is develop a tunnel vision for your goals and aspirations – everything else should not be important.
And remember, wherever you are in your life, whatever you do – You Matter.