We Can’t Help But Compare Ourselves To Others

So, we might as well choose our standards carefully

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

It was 9 AM, in New York City, on 11th of April 1983. This young, troubled, aspiring rockstar dealing with a gruesome hangover was woken up by his friends only to find out he was being kicked out of the band. Lead guitarist and co-founder, obliged to leave the band through the back door, right before officially recording his first album.

He was having severe drug and alcohol problems, topped with overly aggressive behavior. Of course, all these didn’t stop him from feeling oppressed and deciding to make them all pay.

On a bus heading to Los Angeles, he swore that his only goal in life would be to make his former bandmates regret giving up on him. He would make his own band and become so successful that they would see his face everywhere for years to come and regret the decision every day of their lives.

Of course, he had some small impediments — no money, no other job, no potential bandmates, and only the option of living with his mom.

Still, that didn’t stop him from founding a band during the same year. What he started under the name of Fallen Angels didn’t last. Yet, by next year, he has already founded a band that will sell over 25 million records.

Photo by Diego Mora Barrantes on Unsplash

The guitar player was Dave Mustaine. His outrageously successful band was Megadeath. This is the story of one of the most brilliant and influential musicians in heavy metal music history.

One might say he achieved his goals. He became successful. He brought his former bandmates in tears for making him go.

Only that he didn’t. Twenty years later, and despite his immense success, Mustaine is still the one in tears. Because the band he was kicked out of, back in 1983, is Metallica. And Metallica sold over 180 million records around the world.

During an interview in 2003, Dave Mustain says he still can’t help but consider himself a loser. Despite all of his accomplishments, he still sees himself as the kicked-out musician from Metallica.

What do you know?

Someone with a life that most of us can only dream of chose to focus on what he had lost rather than what he had achieved. He measured his accomplishments against something that was, unfortunately, much bigger than him. There was no way to alter how he decided to define and measure his success. And all these made him miserable.

Everybody wants to be successful and happy. (You see, these two don’t always go hand in hand.)

And we have this idea deep down in our heads that it’s all a matter of strategy.

How do you become successful? You have to set yourself goals and come up with a strategy, and don’t even dare to get out of bed in the morning without a plan. A plan for your life, pretty much like a business plan. You don’t start a business without a plan, so how on earth are you supposed to get serious about your life without a… life plan?

But why, oh, why does nobody stop and ask the better question? Before you decide how you’re going to become successful, you need to know what success means to you.

Equally important, can you define your success without looking over the fence at the Joneses?

It turns out that most of us can’t. We keep comparing ourselves to others. I’m not sure if it’s because we evolved from apes, and we haven’t fallen far from the tree, or if it’s something else.

Still, this seems to be the biggest impediment in the way of our happiness or success or whatever it is that we seek in life. The reason why we’re continuously miserable.

As Dale Carnegie used to put it, we’re “​worried because we can’t keep up with the Joneses, but the Joneses are probably worried because they can’t keep up with the Ritzes, and the Ritzes are worried because they can’t keep up with the Vanderbilts.”

We keep comparing ourselves to others, and we have a knack for choosing out-of-reach standards.

To make it worse, when things don’t turn out as expected, we count our troubles, not our blessings. We should be doing the opposite.

And as Epicurus, the unjustly-not-enough-popular Greek philosopher, said…

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for… Nothing is enough to the man for whom enough is too little”.

This isn’t about lowering our standards to mediocrity. It is about setting realistic expectations and fueling ourselves with the small wins we get along the way.

Courtesy to Alvin Ang and his “5 Tips From Epicurus to Help You Live a Happier Life” that helped me remind myself of this valuable lesson!

Mother, writer, thinker. Striving to be the change I want to see in the world.

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