One of the unfortunate tendencies of our humanity is comparing ourselves to each other. We’ve been doing it since we were little kids. “My dad is stronger than yours.” “My house is bigger than yours.” It continues into our teenage years and the category of comparison grow. We compare our looks, our talents, our academic achievements, our friendships, our relationships or lack thereof. The list goes on.
In our adulthood, I do not think we become any wiser – our measuring stick continues to be the people around us. With the prevalence of social media, I can only imagine that the urge to compare one’s life to the depiction of others’ lives on social media platforms is greater for many of us. Images and expressions from people seemingly to be living only the good life can leave one despaired as to why your life isn’t as good as everybody else’s. Of course the reality that most people won’t tell you is that this portrayal of the good life is only partial, which is just one of many reasons that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others.
I think many of us are fond of telling each other only the good parts of our lives. It is one of the ways in which life is a performance. But the reality of everyone’s life is that we all have to endure pain in one way or the other. Of course, no one likes to bring that up when they run into their friends at parties. We smile and we laugh and we tell you that life is wonderful or at least alright, even when we might be dying inside, even when we feel like our lives are completely falling apart. If you are perceptive, you know that no matter how wonderful life is, even when life’s struggles are beautiful, this life that is a gift is still a life full of problems.
The truth is most of us don’t know what each other have negotiated to be where we are in our lives. Take the example of romantic relationships. People often ask me if I ever get lonely or feel left out in comparison to my friends who are in relationships. The truth is sometimes I do – whenever I have to go to an event by myself or bring a girlfriend or guy friend to something that should ordinarily be for couples, of course I feel left out. But the truth is I have learned not to envy people in relationships because I do not know how truly happy they are; I don’t know what they endure every day on account of having a significant other, and I do not know what they have sacrificed to be in that relationship.
Another great category of comparison is in career. As someone who has always been very diligent about school and work experience, my peers were very surprised that post-college, after failing to go to law school, I worked at a struggling start-up for a year. It didn’t pay much so I was not a high-earning graduate like people suspected I would be. But I liked my job even though it didn’t always give me the monetary satisfaction that many of my friends enjoyed. One of my friends who had landed an amazing job at a top accounting firm one day told me he envied me. I was really surprised because I envied his life. He had moved to L.A., he was a high-earning graduate, and he seemed to be living the good life. He said he envied the freedom and happiness I enjoyed in my job. To him, I was living the good life even though my life was far from it.
It’s okay to want things other people have; it is quite natural and we should want good things for ourselves. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that other people have picture-perfect lives. Everyone struggles, everyone hurts, and everyone is enduring something that they probably won’t tell you about. Whatever picture people paint their life as, rest assured that any one life in all its parts is beautiful and dark, hopeful and weary, a blessing and an everyday battle. Focus on the good parts of your life and be grateful for your own set of problems because if you knew what everyone else was going through, you would probably still choose your own life. Don’t compare yourself to anyone and while we’re at it, let’s be a little kinder to each other along the way.