I know that the fastest way to despair is by comparing one’s insides with another’s outsides, and that Max Ehrmann, the author of the classic poem “Desiderata,” was absolutely correct when he said that if you compare yourself with others you become either vain or bitter, or, as Helen Keller put it: “Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”
But Helen and Max don’t keep me from going to the land of comparisons and envy. Before long, I’m salivating over someone else’s book contract, or blog traffic numbers, or “Today Show” appearance. Then I have to pull out my set of directions–these 8 techniques–that will lead me out of the continent of jealousy and home, to self-acceptance:
1. Get more information.
Most of the time we envy one quality about a person, and we presume the rest of her qualities are as perfect as the one we want. That’s usually not the case. Think Rain Man. Boy did he know how to count those straws and play poker. But his social skills needed some fine-tuning, yes? Do some research on the person you want to temporarily destroy and you will find that she has her own set of problems and weaknesses. Moreover, if you consider her success in context, you’ll see that she hasn’t always been a superstar–that maybe, just maybe, back when you got a blue ribbon for the fastest freestyle swimmer in the 7 to 8 age group, she was afraid to dive in the pool or couldn’t figure out how to swim without getting water up her nose. My point: you don’t have the full story. Once you do, you’ll feel better. I think.
2. Compliment her.
“WHAT?!? You can’t be serious,” you’re thinking to yourself. Actually I am. I have tried it numerous times and it works. Last year I came across a blogger I envied. She had two degrees from Yale. (I scored 1,000 on my SATs). Her books were bestsellers. (I had just received a royalty statement that said more copies of my book were returned than sold.) Her Technorati score (blog traffic) was, well, much better than mine.
So…. I did something very counterintuitive. I e-mailed her to tell her how impressed I was with her, and I would very much like to interview her on Beyond Blue. When I started reading through her blogs, I found this great story about her feelings of insecurity regarding a fellow writer whom she felt somewhat threatened by because he was writing on the same topics as she was. What did she do about it? She contacted him and took him out to lunch.
I couldn’t believe that she had moments of insecurity too! I mean, she’s got two Yale degrees! Nowhere in her bio did it mention insecurity. But by complimenting her, and connecting with her, and dare I say befriending her, I learned that she is just like me–with some outstanding strengths but some fears and reservations and insecurities, as well.
3. Do one thing better than her.
This suggestion comes from Beyond Blue reader Plaidypus who wrote this as an assignment I gave everyone to list what they believe in:
I believe that if you don’t succeed at first … you keep trying… and that failure teaches us about success… I believe that laughter is the best medicine… I believe that the best revenge against your enemies is to dress better than them…
I absolutely loved the “dress better than your enemy” directive because it reminds us that we can always find one thing that we can do better than our friend-nemesis. If matching designer outfits gives you a boost of confidence, knock yourself out! If competing in a triathlon just to prove that you are in better shape than your mean cousin with a great figure will help, sign up!
4. Put the ladle (and the running shoes) away.
Early on in my writing career, my mentor Mike Leach would say to me (when I panicked at spotting a more popular book on a certain topic than mine): “Her success doesn’t take away from yours. … Her numbers have nothing to do with yours.” I always remember that when I start thinking like a gerbil … that there is only one food bowl, and if you don’t get to it first and take as much as you need for an entire year, you and your whole gerbil family will die. Or, if you’re Italian, mom has made one pot of pasta, so you had better dig in and eat before your selfish brother ingests your portion.
I repeat: one person’s success doesn’t rob another of success. In fact, success can often breed success.