Why I stopped judging myself based on the achievements of others
Whether in our careers, our personal lives or just sitting on the sofa scrolling through our phones with the accompaniment of a packet of fox’s jam ‘n cream rings, we’ve all been there. Our sort-of friend - that person with the seemingly amazing life and endless luck whom we admire from afar and smile at in public whilst secretly harbouring bitter, jealous thoughts about has just landed their dream job. Or house. Or partner. And they’re beautiful, rich and have everything we could ever hope for.
Only we never step back to consider that they too most probably have a person like that in their lives, and it might even be us.
From school age upwards, we are practically encouraged to compete and judge ourselves against others. We are academically segregated into groups based on our intellectual capabilities, and socially segregated into friendship groups based on any number of factors. We constantly worry that the place we find ourselves in isn’t ideal. That the grass is greener elsewhere.
My personal experience of leaving school early due to chronic illness has heightened these feelings to a point where I still often feel that I am playing ‘catch-up’ with my peers. Should I have a place of my own by now? Am I a failure for giving up on driving lessons? Should I be thinking of getting married?
This also extends to my musical ambitions. I see younger artists reaching greater heights than me and in the darkest parts of my brain I wonder if this is a sign that I should give up. That my time has passed, and I have been a failure.
I know that what I am feeling is not uncommon. It isn’t even a problem exclusive to my generation or created by social media (although it no doubt perpetuates it). It is experienced by all generations and born out of anxiety and apprehensiveness.
Being a human being on this planet can feel extremely lonely. Like we’re constantly playing a guessing game and looking for reassurance. We look to other people who appear to have everything rolling along nicely for inspiration and guidance. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but it becomes a problem when we begin comparing ourselves to individuals who have not only had completely different life experiences to us but also live day to day in an entirely different set of circumstances.
One of the hardest and most important things to realise is that we can never be like anyone else. Not that person you secretly harbour those bitter, jealous thoughts about, nor that person you admire and look up to. No matter how hard we work, we can never join them or ‘beat’ them in our lives. We can only ever be ourselves and that is something that we should celebrate and embrace.
Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has ‘star quality’ and the potential to succeed in whatever we decide to put our minds to. Everyone is special in their own way.
But what if you feel like you are at a disadvantage to others? For the longest time I struggled with the feeling that my illness was ‘unfair’. That everything I dreamt of achieving had been made ten times harder for no apparent reason whilst other healthy people were able to skip off into the sunset with ease. I wished to be like them. Anyone but me.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment my attitude turned a corner. Perhaps it was a combination of the fellow ill people I met along the way, or the years of rifling through my brain in therapy, but there was a moment when I realised that I was being extremely unkind to myself.
I said earlier that my illness had made everything ‘ten times harder for no apparent reason’. Notice how I didn’t say impossible? There is rarely anything in life that is actually impossible. It’s just that sometimes, you may need a little creativity in order to achieve your goals.
It can feel frustrating when you come up against barriers that the people around you don’t seem to face, but the i’ve found that the most important thing is not simply the nature of your achievements. It’s the nature of your achievements relative to your circumstances.
For example, I do not have the energy of a healthy person, therefore I often take longer to mix music due to having to pace myself and occasionally take days off when I become particularly ill. I am also unable to perform the same frequency of gigs as many of my peers for similar reasons. I am, however, maximising my own personal capabilities relative to my circumstances. Therefore, from my perspective, I am succeeding and I should be proud of myself.
Society encourages us to strive for common goals. Being successful, finding love, starting a family, having enough money to live fairly comfortably. But I believe that we should create our own goals based on the things that motivate us. Not our friends, relatives or random judgemental people - especially those on the internet. My illness and the experiences that accompanied it changed my life and caused me to travel down a different path. My goals became spreading positivity and sharing the things i’ve learnt to other people who may be struggling, and to stubbornly stick to my childhood dream of becoming a musician in order to prove to myself that despite my difficulties, I never let them stop me from doing what I want to do. Even if I have to do it in a slightly different way.
And that person we’re all jealous of with the seemingly amazing life and all the luck? Their circumstances are different to yours. They may well be maximising their own potential, but maybe you are too. Life is always far more miserable when we make it a competition. What is the prize? Have you ever considered that there is enough space in the world for everyone to shine bright in their own way?
Whatever you may think, as long as you feel as though you are trying your best and you have the desire to succeed, you are doing pretty damn well. Your personal success and happiness does not need the validation of others.