Sometime’s it’s hard to keep the comparison bug from getting to you, but as I’ve gotten older, this sensation has slowly squirmed away, getting easier and easier to squash whenever it creeps back in. But now, I have a hard time when I notice it in other people.
Most of my struggles with comparison, feelings of inadequacy, or yearnings for success are deeply private. I often keep then entirely to myself and only share with my partner when I worry my sadness is something more. I come from the mindset that I don’t have a right to complain. I have an incredible, privileged life, that is often more than I ever expected. And to want more still? That just seems ridiculous! But I’m beginning to see that it’s normal. Ambition is a sly thing, that even when you’re doing well, your current success never feels quite good enough.
Have you ever found yourself reading an Instagram post about someone complaining about losing some of their 200K followers? How about a successful blogger saying she’s envious of her friends? Or an incredible photographer saying she feels like “giving up.” For someone like me, at the bottom of my career mountain, it’s a strange thing to witness – people who we consider successful, basically lamenting what they think is their lack of success. It doesn’t make sense, but it is in fact real. How can people become numb to how far they’ve gotten?
Well, I have a theory, and it’s undoubtedly facilitated by our addictions to social media, entertainment, and even food! In fact, it’s the American way. We always want more. More is better. More is important. More means you’re superior to everyone else. Whether it’s more money, more followers, more attention, more job offers – if you’re getting more than other people, you’re a success. Sure, there are a few people who are truly driven to be the best and have an insatiable drive to take over the world (Napoleon rings a bell), but when did that suddenly become everyone’s goals?
I feel like the rise of YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter have made us obsessed with competition, being the best, garnering the most attention and affection. But the sticky trap of it is, it’s never enough. When you’re always trying to top the last thing you did, you’ll never be satisfied. It’s great to want to do better, but what I think matters is who you’re doing it for and why. Because that’s where ambition starts to get muddled. That’s where success feels empty and meaningless. And that’s when you get posts about someone’s friend launching a clothing line, and they are left feeling like a loser.
Someone I know had said the world always move on to the next exciting story, the next impressive celebration, leaving your big, celebrated achievement behind and forgotten. And that’s what something like Instagram shows you – someone else’s best moments and memories. I think I covered some similar thoughts in this post on how to be happier on Facebook, but in this case, ambition is more than that. The only way to overcome it, to use it as fuel rather than a means to feel deflated, is to only compare yourself to an earlier version of you. How can you feel lacking if your photographs are better than they were a year ago? How can you not appreciate having 200K followers on Instagram when you only had 150K ten months ago? How can you find a way to incorporate gratitude and singularity into your ambition so that it uplifts you, rather than leaves you sinking like a stone?
So that’s my goal. Find the good things and hold onto them. They’re a yardstick for how I’m doing, not something to be left behind and forgotten. Come at challenges from the perspective of gratitude for where you are and what you’ve been given, not from the hilltop of it’s never enough. Try not to get caught in the trap, just try to be a better you today. Then you can relish all of the good things, and it will be more than enough to keep to happy beyond all those Instagram likes.
Where do you struggle with ambition or comparison? Share with me in the comments below!