A Culture of Comparison

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Mark Twain hit the nail on the head. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. Factor in the culture of today’s social media oriented society, and the ‘life highlight reel’ of others is constantly shoved in our faces. Needless to say, if you’re having a bad day or struggling with personal hardships, constantly seeing everyone’s best self makes it very difficult to come out on top.

But of course we do it anyway.

We regularly compare ourselves to others: to our friends, to our colleagues, to the perfect looking couple walking down the street, and even to our high school boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend whose profile we somehow end up stalking on Facebook (trust me…it happens – but for the record, my high school boyfriend doesn’t have a brother).

Comparison is a funny thing. It can either provide us with inspiration (e.g. that person is so active and fit! I’m going to start going to the gym so I can be like that!) OR it can make us feel totally shitty.

… Unfortunately, most of the time it’s the latter.

It’s surprisingly easy to focus on only the negative in our own lives; particularly when we selectively choose to focus on only the positive in the lives of others. Many of you have probably contemplated why your cousin has her dream job and you can barely make it into the office without wanting to punch someone in the face; why your best friend is married with a house and baby while you’re single, childless, and living in your parents basement; or why your ex has a new girlfriend and you’re going on your 21st Tinder date in 6 months.

It’s definitely not hard to glorify the lives of others, but it’s important to remember that what we see on the outside isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Social media and public settings are places where people advertise their best selves. As far as I’m aware, the majority of people don’t selectively post photos of themselves on Instagram bawling their eyes out, they don’t tweet about the screaming match they had with their husband, and they probably don’t Snapchat their child vomiting all over the new rug – Not to mention all the conflict that goes on inside our minds that even the people we are closest to might be entirely unaware of.

Needless to say, the people you’re comparing yourself to may not be as happy as you think – but then again, maybe they are.

Control & a Hypothetical Crystal Ball

As someone with OCD, a very large component of my anxiety stems from a lack of control. If I had it my way, I would have a superpower that allows me to plan out every second of the rest of my life and make damn sure it’s amazingly awesome. Sadly, in the real world we can’t predict the future – and we definitely can’t plan out every second of our lives.

I am very future oriented person (surprise!) who has always had a vision of what my life was supposed to look like at the ripe old age of 26. If you asked me 5 years ago, I would tell you that by now I’d be living in Vancouver (which I am) with my long-term high school boyfriend (which I am not). I would be engaged, because that was supposed to happen as soon as I finished grad school, and now I’d be married, or at the very least in the planning stages of my wedding. I’d also work in mental health, be financially stable, and have a relatively nice car. Overall, I would be genuinely happy.

In reality, the only thing consistent with that plan is the fact that I am indeed living in Vancouver (which to be fair is totally awesome).

Clearly I was pretty naïve 5 years ago, and despite occasionally stressing that I might be forever alone, I am grateful for all of the unplanned experiences (both good and bad) that have shaped me into the person I am today.

I’m not going to lie to you – I still very much want the things I once envisioned for myself at this age, and I tend to be pretty hard on myself about the fact that they haven’t happened yet.

I want to love and be loved in return. I want to get married. I want to have children before I run out of time. I want a job in the field I’m passionate about. I want financial stability. I want to travel. I want a car. I want a house. I want a dog. And most importantly, I want to be happy.

It’s easy to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves, especially when someone beats us to the punch at getting the things we want. This is where comparison creeps in… and I’ll be the first to admit that seeing others experience the things I want before I do, particularly at this stage of my life, can be pretty freaking stressful.

Bottom line is that you can control one life – your own.  Not your friend’s, your colleague’s, or your ex’s. We are all unique, and comparing ourselves to people who have different thoughts, different personalities, different strengths, and different weaknesses is a huge waste of energy.

Instead, stop worrying about everyone else, invest that energy in yourself, and do the things that make you happy. We can’t predict the future, so (as difficult as it may be) seize the day – and don’t give a crap about what other people are doing while you seize it.

…As for the parts of your life you can’t control? Well there’s nothing you can do about it. So breathe deep and take it all in stride. Your time will come.

And so will mine.

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