How do we know what success looks like? What does success feel like, taste like, smell like? Is success something tangible, or a state of being? For me, success can feel like a moving target that I’m trying to hit at a carnival to win the big prize. The more the target moves, the more I feel like I’m chasing to catch up. It’s as if I’m inside a hamster wheel that never stops spinning.
What makes the target move?
Social media has become an incredible platform for connection and communication with the world around us. It can be a fun way to show our friends and loved ones:
- our latest adventures
- tasty desserts
- cat videos
On the other hand, when we’re not feeling good about ourselves, social media can feed into a voice inside that says “everyone else has it all figured out.”
We begin to compare our inner-struggles, insecurities, and insufficiencies – with other people’s highlight reels.
When fear sets in, we begin to see other people’s happiness and successes as proof of our failures. The story we tell ourselves sounds like this:
“I’m not enough. I’m not doing enough, working enough, working out enough, working hard enough, etc.”
Then we reach in our pockets, pull out our phones, and start scrolling. Images of freelance bloggers doing handstands on beaches in Bali pop up on our feed, and we go from feeling bad to worse. These images have now become tangible proof of our laziness, lack of success, and lack of upper body strength.
When it comes to comparing yourself to others, you are NOT alone. When fear is triggered within us, we are searching of one or two of the following:
- Certainty – make uncertain/ potentially threatening situations certain
- Predictability – need to know what to expect
- Control – the need to be right
Once the deep need for certainty, predictability, or control sets in – we begin desperately searching for evidence that falls in line with our story.
But what if there were multiple truths? What if we could change our story? The beginning of my journey with comparison began in fifth grade.
It was the beginning of fifth grade, and I was in the BEST class. I knew this because our class had the new teacher in school, Mr. Hindle, and it was the place every fifth grader wanted to be. Mr. Hindle was younger than all the other teachers (which obviously made him cooler) and he liked to play games with us. I remember knowing instantly I would be his favorite student that year. A fact, I decided, I would have to keep this fact to myself because bragging was the second worst offense you could make after being a tattletale.
We were a few weeks into the school year and everything was going according to plan. I was rocking show-and-tell, always offered to erase the chalk board, and I could excuse myself to go the bathroom without supervision.
Things were looking good. Then one day, Mr. Hindle called me up to his desk. He started to talk about the B I got on my first test.
“Good,” I thought. “Get this boring stuff out of the way.”
“Danielle, you’re naturally a B student,” he said.
“See Jenny over there… she’s naturally an A student.”
“If you want to earn an A on the next test too, you’ll have to work a little harder, Danielle.”
So, there was a favorite, but it wasn’t me. It was the A student, Jenny.
The beginning of my new story began, to be the best/ to be liked, I would have to try harder. There were people out there who were naturally better than me. I mean, I was pretty good. I was a B student, after all. To be honest, to this point I hadn’t paid much attention to grades, but now I understood what A’s meant. It meant being picked first, being the favorite, and if that was what I wanted, which obviously it was, then I would have to work harder – a lot harder.
I wasn’t fully aware how this part of my story affected me until about 20 years later. Virtually every step of the process of grad school, from filling out the application, to my first day of class, would turn me into an anxious, stinky, sweaty, stress ball.
Did this make logical sense? Was this level of stress productive, helpful, or necessary? – NO. However, the story I had been telling myself for two thirds of my life was that I wasn’t enough. There were other people, smarter people, other “Jenny’s” in the world who were better than I was. Comparison…had reared it’s ugly head and sunk its hooks deep into my sense of worthiness.
After a few months of this, I tried something new – I got curious about how I felt and the possibility that there might be more to the story.
- What if, Mr. Hindle thought he was trying to help me by suggesting I work harder for an A?
- What do grades really mean anyway?
- Do I really care about getting an A?
Curiosity opened the door to possibility for me.
For those of us who fear the unknown, here is a challenging prospect – Can there be certainty in the face of curiosity?
Following the paths of those who have come before you, or living your life according to someone else’s standards, without question can feel like a safer choice. It’s safe because you can see it. You can measure it. You can hold your photo, your profile, or your bank account next to someone else’s to see how you measure up.
“If I do what they did, I’ll get what they have.” While there may be some truth to this, what we all must ask ourselves is –
To get yourself from a place of comparison to curiosity, here are a couple steps you might like to try:
- Move your body – turn on some upbeat music and jump around, get some exercise, do a plank, go for a walk, SOMETHING. Your physical body is deeply connected to your emotional wellbeing. Body language researcher Amy Cuddy has an incredible TED Talk that explores power posing and the way people can shift their mental state with their body.
- Turn off your devices – unplug and be present…even if it’s just for a few moments.
- Gratitude – what are you thankful for? What’s wonderful about you? Everyone has special gifts. Spend some time exploring yours, whether you write it down, sketch it, sing it, or say it – get it out of you and on to something you can see.
All my love,