If we constantly compare ourselves to others, we end up feeling inferior and disheartened. How to be inspired by others while appreciating our authentic selves.
“When Akiba was on his deathbed, he bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was a failure.
His rabbi moved closer and asked why, and Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses.
The poor man began to cry, admitting that he feared God’s judgment.
At this, his rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, “God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.”
From the Talmud(Mark Nepo – “The Book of Awakening”)
Admiration can be a wonderful source of inspiration. Seeing the wisdom, courage or talent of others can motivate us to seek to improve our lives or the lives of those around us.
At times however, instead of being inspired by others we simply feel inferior. Even worse, we often do not compare ourselves to true role models but instead look at the people we see around us. The colleague that seems more successful. The better looking friend. The lives of others can seem more glamorous, more successful, more easy.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
When we constantly compare ourselves to others, our own selves, looks, talents and lives can seem inferior and lacking. With the result that we don’t want to be ourselves and instead wish we were (more like) someone else.
Wishing You Were Someone Else?
“Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.”
If you had the chance to become anyone in the world, who would you choose to be? Many of us would choose someone famous. Some would fight over the chance to rob the identities of the likes of Bradley Cooper, Beyonce or Taylor Swift – it would be like opening hour on Black Friday.
In envying others, we imagine that if we only had what that person did (riches, looks, fame, 3 Hollywood ex-spouses), we would be happier. We would no longer suffer from our doubts, insecurities or fears.
The belief that money brings happiness, beauty leads to self-esteem and fame results in maturity is not reflected by reality. If celebrities lead lives of peace and happiness, there would be substantial change in the content of our favorite gossip magazines, followed by a marked decline in sales.
The reality is that while you’re wishing you were more like someone else, that someone else is also wishing they were more like someone else. There’s always someone that has something better than you.
Further, we generally compare ourselves to what someone else is displaying on the outside (looks, social status, assets) and discount any problems they might be having on the inside (low self esteem, doubts, loneliness). We compare our insides to others’ outsides and come up short.
What makes life pleasurable is not so much what’s going on in the outside, but how things are on the inside (self esteem, emotional awareness, connectedness, sense of purpose etc.).
Why We Compare
Humans are social creatures and comparison is an important “social tool” to monitor our status within groups. Comparison ensures that we aren’t left out.
Monkeys are also social creatures and engage in comparison. A monkey may be content with a handful of peanuts, but when he sees his fellow monkey receiving a banana, he is no longer a happy chappy. Likewise, studies have demonstrated that people prefer to be paid a salary equal to their workmates, than a higher salary if workmates were to receive an even higher one. Equality matters.
We use comparison to make sure we are getting a fair deal in life. Being treated unfairly ignites our sense of injustice and motivates us to defend ourselves. In obtaining fair treatment and equal rights, comparison is an essential tool. In addition, comparison can be motivate us to create positive changes in our lives by inspiring us to upgrade our attitudes and goals.
However, comparison is only helpful if we can use it to improve our situation. Where comparison only highlights what we “lack”, it detracts from our happiness. Comparison is an endless exercise – the grass is always greener. In addition, comparing ourselves to others is often simply a distraction from facing the things in our lives that we can improve. It is easier to say “I would like myself more if I was more like….“, than to do the work on building our own sense of confidence and self-worth.
If you can’t stop comparing yourself to others and have a sense of shame and inadequacy, you are not alone. It is a common problem, resulting from the internalization of messages we have received from the world we live in, often since we were children. You only need to take a look at movies or advertisements to get the impression that being beautiful / successful / popular etc are the most important things worth having. Things that, even if they did bring happiness, are out of reach for many of us.
Likewise, as children we received many messages of what we need to do in order to be a “good child” – working hard, not complaining, putting on a pretty dress or smart suit, doing what we are told, being nice, winning, getting the best marks at at school. Very few of us are taught to love and accept ourselves just for being who we are. It’s no wonder that in facing up to the endless task of “earning” lovability that we look around us and feel inadequate.
We can spend a lifetime trying to live up to impossible, self-imposed standards and missing the opportunity to just enjoy being who we are. Learning to be comfortable with who we are and living a life true to ourselves is far more rewarding than the unhappy task of comparing ourselves to others.
Finding Your Genius
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Instead of wishing you were more like someone else, you can learn to make the best of being yourself. Every one of us has our own set of talents, qualities and things that we enjoy doing. Ultimately it is our own responsibility for discovering and developing them. However, it will be difficult to find and enjoy your own talents if you are constantly looking outwards and holding yourself to the standards of other people.
Whilst not necessarily being at a level of “genius”, everyone has things that come more naturally to them. It doesn’t mean you need to find something you can be a world champion at. Being yourself means embracing your own uniqueness and finding what it is in life that feels fulfilling. It is finding what is special for you.
If you are a fish, your talent won’t be climbing trees, as much as you may envy your monkey friends. But in turn they will envy your ability to swim effortlessly. Likewise, as a fish it makes no sense to sit around complaining about how much fun your monkey friends are having in the trees, while ignoring the whole ocean you have to swim in.
It is also a curious fact that often the things we admire the most about other people are a reflection of qualities and potential we actually have ourselves but are disowning, perhaps due to modesty or fear. If you really admire a quality in someone else, consider whether it’s a quality you in fact have and are denying.*
* This is referred to as our “shadow” – the parts of us, both good and bad, that we disown.
Just Being You
“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was right – you have to be yourself because everyone else is already taken. Therefore, every moment you spend wishing you were someone else is a moment you’re missing from your own life.
Just being you is as simple as that. However it involves a shift from a focus on “doing” to simply “being“. That is, instead of defining ourselves by what we do (achievements, recognition from others), we learn that just being ourselves is enough.
As with many simple things, just “being” is difficult to do in practice. We get caught up in busy lives of working and doing. However, we can learn to spend and enjoy moments of simply “being”.
You and only you can enjoy the feeling of the sun on your face. Or ocean water on your skin. Or ice cream melting in your mouth. Or the feeling of a warm hug. You cannot experience these through someone else. Only you, simply by being.
You Are Someone Worth Being
“A flower does not think of competing with the flowers next to it, it just blooms.”
Everyone has something special about them. You don’t need to let what is special about other people prevent you from finding what is special about you.
It is your life and only you get to enjoy it. Don’t spend more time envying the monkeys high up in the trees – instead take a deep breath and dive into the endless ocean of possibilities waiting just for you.🐠🌊 💛