In Part 1, I make a huge realization about my career that shifted my thinking and helped me move beyond self comparison. In Part 2, I discuss specific strategies to deal with self comparison.
There were many chances growing up to feel like the black sheep of my family. My late father was an engineer, my mother is an accountant, and my two sisters are both doctors.
So… what’s your major?
I entered UC San Diego undeclared. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. But I knew to pick something between science (I had no brain for it) and English (not mom-approved). So in my freshman year, I started my first quarter out in Economics, my second quarter as Urban Planning, and my third quarter as Communications.
Come end of freshmen year, I returned to Economics.
What do you want to do with your life?
My career path was just as meandering.
I thought I wanted to be a Certified Financial Planner and manage people’s money. That phase quickly passed and I wanted to be a management consultant (what business student doesn’t?)
Then I went on a life-changing trip to Haiti. It was part of a medical missionary; I applied dental anesthesia and pulled out patients’ teeth. I was inspired to be a dentist [MOM-APPROVED].
It was meaningful work, but after 3 weeks of returning from Haiti, the thought of back-breaking days telling patient’s “say ahhh” didn’t exactly stir my loins.
Then I started an accounting society with some friends and decided to pursue the safe and approved route towards a CPA [MOM-APPROVED].
Come hiring season, I was faced with 2 options: Big 4 or a rotational program at a huge corporation? I chose the latter, because even then I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do – and this opportunity provided me 6 opportunities to try out different areas of business.
Finally, fast forward and now I’m a User Experience Designer [MOM – “WTF IS THAT?”].
After two dozen years of living, I found my direction. I knew I wanted to create, to write, and to design.
All throughout that journey, I was exploring my interests…but damn, a lot of that time was spent miserably comparing myself to people who seemed to have it all figured out.
I would be pulled in other directions like a kite in the wind. Talked to someone who was a successful internet marketer? Man, what am I doing with my life, I need to do that instead! Then talk to someone who learned how to program and snagged a Silicon Valley job? Shit, I need to learn how to program too and get my act together. Friend is making tons of money in sales and the work is easy? I should just do sales, right?
You can see how productive that way of thinking was.
DON’T IGNORE YOURSELF
Jealousy and self-comparison fall within the same realm, and you may even argue it’s the same thing. But something is lost in the connotation. Jealousy often conjures up thoughts of a crazy, tire-slashing ex, or a possessive friend who doesn’t like it when you get chummy with new friends.
But you take a second look at jealousy and realize what it really is – a manifestation of insecurity. Insecurity means not having a secure sense of self. It implies a lack of self-investment, which means being prone to the undulating waves of external life events; someone is more attractive than we are, someone is making more money, someone is more… groovy.
In relation to my zigzagging career path, I learned how to stop comparing myself to others only after realizing that I, myself, was insecure. I was ignoring myself. I wasn’t listening to my own wants, needs and passions. Which brings me to this truth:
More often than not, self comparison has less to do with jealousy, than than the dissatisfaction of living a life untrue to yourself.
Once you have even the vaguest idea of a direction you want to pursue, you must chase it down. Only if you keep pursuing what makes you feel alive, will you feel like you’re your own person.
I mean, shit, I was blogging about personal development since I was 18. It never occured to me that it was something really enjoyable to me that I needed to nurture and develop. It took several years for me to wake up and treat it like the earnest hobby it is, and give it love on a weekly basis.
I reference this Huffington Post article a lot, but the #1 biggest regret of the dying is…
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Define your own version of success
It’s tough to know what you want. It’s tough to define your personal version of success. It took me a long time to decide that I need to be the CEO of my own life, and not follow the latest fad, trend or “22 things I must do as a 20-something” article. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to want someone else’s version of success, just for the sake of achieving that exterior validation of success.
Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else
Or, as I’d to say, if you don’t define your own version of success, someone else will do it for you.
Prime example: parents. My younger self used to always let my mother’s suggestions govern what I should do career-wise. To her, job security was tantamount, so she struggled to understand why I left a stable job to pursue a completely different career.
It took time to realize that my mother comes from a different generation with a different type of thinking with different values. A lot of those values are good and make sense – but they don’t necessarily fit my interests nor what I define my personal success as.
If you feel like your parents are still trying to define success for you, the most important thing you need to know is that they all just want you to be happy and successful. As long as you do the work it takes to discover your direction, pursue it, and tell your folks that’s what makes you happy – they don’t want their kid to be unhappy, right? – that should be enough.
If it’s not enough, the responsibility is on their end to understand that success has a different meaning between you and them.
To this day, I’m still defining my own version of success. And now writing this, it strikes me that as with all worthwhile things – finding love, getting good at something – defining personal success will probably be a never-ending, lifelong journey. All that matters is that we keep walking.
Have a vision, but allow for change
When I was 18, I thought I’d be a millionaire in my twenties, cruisin’ down the street with a nice BMW I bought for myself. Of course that would still be nice to have, but my priorities have changed. I still care about money, but now I want to spend it on experiences, more so than material goods. If you look at my bills, a disproportionate amount is spent on food, events and salsa classes. If I could, I’d get rid of my car.
What you thought you wanted at 25 will change when you’re 30. And what you prioritize in your 30s will be different when you’re 40, and so on.
So go ahead. Find the beat of your drum. Know yourself well. If you take care of your passions, they will take care of you.
To establish a sense of who you are and what you want to do, is to put the specter of self comparison back in its grave.