It’s always a bit funny to see how someone presents themselves to others when you have a little inside knowledge about their lives. It seems so grandiose when you know the reality. There are the girls who confide in you about their #dark relationship issues that are somehow also weaving a perfect we’ve-never-had-any-problems relationship story into their Knot.com wedding website, the less-successful-than-you friend who is constantly going on vacations while you are eating ramen a few times a week, and the coworker from a few jobs ago who had your same position and now is suddenly your anachronistic superior on LinkedIn.
When we know the story, it’s easy us to see how people are exaggerating or putting on a bit of a show for all the other people who don’t know any better. And yet, we still don’t assume that this is happening all the other times people are talking about their lives. People lie. It’s not malicious, it’s self-preservation. We have a human need to be liked by other people, so we lead with our assets and omit the ugly details.
Instead, when we meet someone impressive we think, “I could never be like them.” When someone is successful we assume our situations are similar, they are just magically more talented than we are. When we scroll through someone’s Instagram we assume their lives are fabulous, that they have made it where we are doomed to toil. We forget that they might have decades of hard work on us, or that we’re doing it while raising a family or while working our way through school. We forget that we personally might not have chosen their relationship even if it does look great on the outside.
This is because we see our own struggles so closely, we live them every single day. We don’t hear this from other people, at least not while it’s still a scary, consuming problem. Struggle isn’t sexy unless it’s after the fact and it’s only used to demonstrate a lesson they learned from it that contributes to their (now) great life.
I don’t mean to say that no one has a good life, that everyone is putting on a show while secretly in pain, depressed or otherwise broken. No, great lives exist, they just aren’t perfect. The most relaxing thing I’ve ever read about success is to “remember that people will brag about what they’ve achieved, but they don’t brag about the price they paid to get it.” When you look at someone’s life and feel jealous about it or insecure in comparison, look at what they aren’t showing you.
Did they get to marry such a good-looking spouse because they are fine putting up with this person’s high-maintenance attitude? Do they have an amazing job because they are at work until after dinner every night? I promise it is something, and they have made the choice that whatever they sacrificed is less important than whatever they have. If you want to even begin to compare yourself to them, you have to want to make that same judgment call.
But, better yet, don’t compare yourselves to them. When that feeling creeps up of “this person is so cool” or “I wish I could be like this” remind yourself of this, of how little you know, of how much this person is not communicating to you — not because they are trying to make you feel bad, but simply because it’s not our nature to present our lives to others with complete transparency. Resist the urge to think of others as a guru, as what you’d be like in an ideal world, as any kind of accomplished complete person you aspire to be. Read their stories, consider their advice, but bring it back to you and what choices they help you make — not because you want to be more like them but because it makes you feel more complete and satisfied.