Judging from her looks and personality, Aayat appears to lead a charmed life. She takes pictures while strolling through the lanes of Calcutta and choosing fresh produce at a farmer’s market closer to home. Those who spend time with her in person might think her fortunate. She is a lovely grown daughter, and she lives in a handsome Club Town apartment. An artist at heart, she revels in the city’s cultural offerings and recently had a personal essay published in the Times of India.
Yet Aayat’s internal view of her life is much darker. “I have difficult feelings about how I don’t have what I want,” she confesses. “I feel as if I have made the wrong choices and fallen short.” Her sense of inadequacy flares especially when she compares herself to friends, siblings, and people from her past—many of whom linger in her awareness because of the grace of social media.
These kinds of comparisons drive home Aayat’s ambivalence about her life choices, especially those related to her career. She came to Calcutta in her 20s with a passion for doing something vulnerable. While she’s grateful to earn a reliable salary and benefits, she hates her commute and finds her work gruelling at times. “I regret taking the path I did, because of where I have ended up,” she says. “It really gnaws me.” When she is confronted with a peer’s favourable outcome, her perceived failings pop out in sharp relief.
That was the case of Aayat when I met her for the first time. Measuring the self, against others is a modus operandi of the human mind or nature, and in some ways, it can be helpful. The inspiration you feel about someone else’s accomplishments can rev up the motivation to improve your own life. The recognition that your abilities are a notch above someone else’s can deliver a uplift to your self-esteem. But comparisons can be harmful when they leave you feeling chronically inferior or mentally depressed. We don’t celebrate our victory when we compare ourselves to others.
“Whenever you find you are comparing yourself to someone else, you should go immediately right up to that person and compliment them on the very thing you are jealous of or comparing yourself to.”
Since comparison is a fundamental human urge, there’s really no way of shutting it down completely. But if we understand its origins, mechanisms, and what to watch out for, we may be able to alleviate the negative effects and escalate the good.
When we speak of our good and ugly sides we can move toward self-acceptance. “The more we are authentic with one another, the easier it would be to build each other, rather than compare and compete. When we see others as equals, we embrace a sense of compassion and love. “When we are full of love for ourselves and others, we don’t need to compare.”
“Things are, as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between the well and badly arranged constellations.” – by Alan Watts
“I always have a list of things I should do”, where do these ideas come from? I have realized that we spend the majority of our time with people who always compare us with our friends and relatives and that’s where our expectations originate.
We live in a world where each one of us is sharing one perfect second of their imperfect day, and we are interpreting that perfect second as a life of perfection. However, the reality is very different. They are living a life of quiet desperation like the all of us.
You need to have people you can look up to and admire. Learn from their actions. Imitate their successes (where it feels right) and avoid their failures. There’s a difference between comparing yourself to anyone and everyone, and actively choosing whose actions and counsel you would like to take as input. These people may grow over time as you mature and/or your goals change.
Take some time to do an audit of what you are ingesting and how it is impacting you. What are you watching, listening to, and with whom are you surrounding yourself? Is the impact levelling-up you, or making you feel very bad about yourself?
Tune out all the distractions that cause you to compare. Unfollow, if you have to or stop looking at them. “You should compare yourself with your yesterday. If you are winning that difficult comparison, you are winning at life.” It is an important distinction. What were you, a month ago, a year ago, or as a child, be proud of where you are today?
If you have no destination in mind, it is tough to draw a map. You need meaningful goals towards which you are driving. “Without a north star, you are only a ship without a rudder.” Choose whichever cliché’ you like better, make an aim, and start moving in that direction. Small steps are generally what it takes to build the momentum you need to achieve it.
Remember, you have a special set of gifts, personality and talents that are unique to you. Comparing your life, personality and talent is a waste of your gifts. Guard your time because it’s very precious, lessen your time spent on Social Media where you find yourself falling prey to the lie of comparison and give dismissive self-talk the boot.
I cannot tell you any sort of spiritual truth that you don’t know already. All I can do is to remind you of what you have forgotten. Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its melodiousness. We are the spectator through which the creation becomes aware of its glory, of its grandeur. You are a device through which the infinity is looking at and traverse itself. So be who you are!!