I spoke to a friend recently, who was struggling with some actions he had been taking that he didn't particularly like. He said he was struggling with X and that put him in a bad frame of mind which led him to feel poorly about himself and he felt like he was in a slow spiral; one which needed intervening. We spoke for a while and came to some conclusions. One line of our conversation struck me, and it is a belief system that many people hold to be true and it is that we compare the worst in ourselves to the best of what we see in others. Read that again... The best of what "we see in others"... As Descartes has pointed out, our main source of knowledge, our senses are often erroneous and therefore must be doubted. Seeing the best in someone therefore should be doubted and critically analyzed as best we can.
Perception or Reality?
The line that stood out to me was "I see you, living your life in America, you've written a book and are having a great time". To which I replied, "we compare the worst in ourselves to the best in other people". Have I been having a great time? Absolutely, but that is immaterial. A great time doesn't always mean happiness. My friend, lets call him Albert (you know his second name but that must be disclosed) was slightly taken aback when I told him, "don't worry, I've been in your position before".
In spring of 2014, I left my golf scholarship behind and moved back to Ireland. Upset, lost and full of B.S, I thought I had everything figured out. I figured, college is only a system and a business which churns out graduates that go into low paying jobs to repay the debt, which they racked up in their 4-6 years in college. I still believe this is the case but I now see through that and realize that the benefits of college are most often not from the college itself but from the people you meet, the places you go and the experiences you have. After moving home I wrote a book, another 'success', which my friend saw in me. Little did he know that when writing the book, I was upset, lost and extremely angry with myself. Later, after writing and publishing the book, which got some recognition from golfers and people I look up to, I started a company, which again was another 'success' in my life. Again, I grew more and more anxious, upset and uneasy with myself. In the summer of 2015, I decided to go back to college and pursue that dream again because I figured I must right the wrongs of my first attempt and I figured that the problem was not me, but the circumstances in which I found myself. Again, from the outside looking in, this probably seemed great and seemed like wow; Daniel is doing well for himself again... but... one month in and FLOP... Major flop. I came home for a few weeks in early October to get my head right which I did. Of course, my first attempt at university stateside had absolutely nothing to do with circumstance but rather a young cocky head on young shoulders led me astray and going back with a slightly altered but still not clear mindset was setting me up for failure yet again. Thankfully, it didn't.
You're now thinking, "well thanks for your life story over the last three years but I really don't care", and I agree. You shouldn't. But there is a lesson in there. As my friend was on the outside looking in; all he saw was success, happiness and a guy who was literally, living his dream. From the inside looking out it was much different. All I saw was a guy who was upset with himself, angry with himself and frustrated with the lack of progress he was making in his life. I saw a guy who was a hindrance to society and someone who probably wouldn't be missed too much if he was no longer here. While this example is trivial, what it points to is absolutely essential in our overall wellbeing.
Seeing Through Your Biases
As we build our perceptions of other people, we often forget that everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about and I believe this is quite evident over the past three years. The media helps build sport stars and celebrities as superheroes and constantly reminds us of the crises our world is in. We are made believe that we are in this whirlwind for the long run and we can't get out and that somehow, the celebrities are immune to any distress or sadness. We are taught to look up to the people we want to be like as if they can do no wrong and we are made believe in an all-powerful, all loving being who can also do no wrong. We are made to believe that our life is set out for us and we have no bearing on the direction or outcome of each and every day. All of these societal biases lead us down a path that make us compare the worst in ourselves to the best we see in others and that is what makes us feel less powerful, more jealous and more insecure. We put our lack of success down to not being the chosen one and we often say we don't have the resources. We have thoughts like, "well if I grew up like him/her, I'd have done even more than they have". But the question is rarely about a lack of resources but a lack of resourcefulness. Although success and happiness should not be determined by achievement, we are made believe that the best at their craft are the happiest and that they live life in a bubble which is all roses and glory. I can't say it isn't as I am not the best at any of my crafts, but the more I learn and listen to other successful people, the more I realize that they are no different to you or me in that they battle with the same self-defeating thoughts as we do.
Nobody Is Perfect!
So how exactly does one deal with this unhealthy comparison? I would recommend being mindful about the fact that everyone is going through a battle that you know nothing about. I would also recommend being grateful as often as possible. Being grateful may sound a little woo woo and I know it will. The reason behind this is because "it can't be that simple" but there is a big difference between simple and easy to do. If, every morning you can write down three things you're grateful for, while trying not to repeat the same things in any three day stretch, you'll soon realize that the world is mostly a beautiful place to live in and we are simply looking in the wrong places for the wrong things and finding the wrong answers. If you continue to look toward the right things i.e. gratitude, you'll begin to notice more thing to be grateful for and you will see through your perceptual biases.
Stay hungry, stay humble.