Although I live in Florida now, I still read my hometown newspaper daily, the Denver Post.
Denver is a special place for me. I attended high school and college there. Got married and raised kids in this great city. The entirety of my formal career as an engineer and public servant happened in Denver. The best thing about reading the Post is that it keeps me plugged into the lifeblood of this beloved place and feeds my lifelong fanaticism for Colorado’s sport teams.
But lately I have been noticing a disturbing trend that has both surprised and discouraged me. Every time I read about a former friend or colleague, specifically the ones that are closer to my age, my excitement and pride for them soon gave way to my deficits and insecurities.
Does this sound familiar?
WTF? How could it be that the accomplishment of my colleagues would cause me discomfort?
The answer is simple. This is what happens when you seek to establish your worth by comparing to others. What this experience showed was that I still harbor feelings of insecurity and unworthiness regarding what people think about me.
This constant effort to be better than those around us may seem natural to you, but it is not, for it does not help you flourish into the person you were meant to be. Comparing to others is an effort to fortify our ego, but our ego is nothing but an illusion we decided to create from early in our lives. In order to become better humans, we must stop behaving from the desires of our ego.
I thought I was long past those feelings in my life. But apparently not, for the good news about friends re-activated that old internal voice that tells me I am not good enough to merit the love and respect from others. It was disappointing to discover that, after so many years of meditating and reflecting on myself and the purpose of my life, I still harbor inside these kinds of negative beliefs.
Frankly, I never thought I would hear that voice again, especially after seventy years of age and nine years removed from my formal career. What is even stranger is that I have no reason to expect to be considered for any of these high-profile jobs since, many years ago, I stopped looking or applying for them. Expecting to be named to a job I did not try to get is like believing I can win the lottery without buying a ticket.
Nevertheless, there it was once again filling me with thoughts and comments that disrupted the sense of calm and gratitude I have worked to develop this past handful of years.
“Why aren’t some of these employers coming after you?” the voice asks. Then it shouts out, “I’ll tell you why, because everybody realizes you are not that good, people realize you are a fraud who never deserved the accomplishments you got.”
This is the way the world is, and this is how we must live in it
Perhaps you think that the world is what it is and there is nothing you can do about it but to adjust to it. But I say “no”, this may be how people made the world so far, but we have the power to change it.
Granted, it is no secret that American society has an obsession with wealth, status, and fame. This emphasis on external achievements has put a lot of pressure on us throughout our lives to measure ourselves as compared to others, not realizing how damaging these unhealthy comparisons are to our self-image.
Think about it, in a world where being number one is the goal, there will always be someone better, stronger, wealthier, and more accomplished than you. In this kind of world, you will always feel like a loser because you will never be number one. Even for those anointed with the “GOAT” (Greatest of All time) label, the feeling that he/she has achieved perfection or greatness will be fleeting, for eventually, someone will be better and surpass their accomplishments.
Case in point, Novak Djokovic, the inimitable Servian tennis player who reigns as the number one tennis player in the world. I don’t know the man, but I would bet that after his US Tennis Open Finals loss, he felt like a loser. All his past victories and accomplishments—and they are many—could not ease the sting he felt after another player bested him in the finals of a tournament where he had the chance to make tennis history.
No one can win all the time, which under its own definition makes us all loser except for that one person who, one day (if a day like that ever comes), dies with the most wealth, fame, and power than anyone else alive.
You might think that I am making too much of this issue, that the expression of “dying with the most toys” is meant as a joke, not as a way to live your life. Yet, it is most certain that many of us live adhering to this saying.
Think about the pang of jealousy you feel when you see your neighbor in a new car while you are still driving your twelve-year-old jalopy. Or the resentment you experience when a colleague gets the coveted promotion you wanted. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is not bullshit, for it is what we all do when we feel society’s pressure when we don’t compare well (in our eyes) to others.
This is a habit we must break
In a society where accomplishments are king, we value those at the top more than those at the bottom. But does this make sense? Do you think a higher being created us to fit into some kind of pecking order based on the wealth, fame or power we amassed during this life?
If you do, then you spend your days engaged in the never-ending cycle of comparisons that allows you to value or devalue people accordingly.
The problem with this strategy is that, ultimately, you will devalue yourself.
I see this cycle in the many retired people I know. An example is the former CEO of a large company who now sees himself as far less valuable to others because he no longer holds the power and status he once held in society.
But you don’t need to be a famous CEO to experience this. I have seen this kind of self-devaluation in former teachers, engineers, middle managers, mechanics, salespeople, you name it.
It is easy to see where, in a society that prioritizes fame, power, and wealth, that the poor and disenfranchised are the least cared for. It is also easy to understand how the elderly and infirm can disappear from the consciousness of the people. All one has to do is see the disparities in our national COVID response to verify this one.
If we want to create a different society and world, then an attitude overhaul is in order.
A necessary realignment
Discovering the remnants of my jealousy and resentment towards others because of their accomplishments was an eyeopener for me. So too was the accompanying reduction of my self worth that followed. Yet, these things were also a gift, for they reminded me of how I came to be filled with feelings of unworthiness that I have carried throughout my life. This is similar for all of us, and rediscovering and reasserting the self-worth that has been ours since brith is the crux of our human journey. Obviously, I still have some work to do, but I hope that my falling short can be a lesson for others.
So how do we change the world as it is for one that gives value and respect for every person in it? We must begin by demystifying the value we give material things, like wealth, power, and fame.
To start this process, I am going to quote actor/comedian Jim Carrey who said,
“I think everybody should get all the money they want and get all the fame they want and do everything they ever wanted so they can see that attaining things they want is not the answer.”
Hard to believe that the same guy who played Ace Ventura, the pet detective and Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber, could say something so profound. But it is not so improbable when you read about Carrey’s lifelong battle with depression. This awareness came to him as he recovered from the shock and disappointment he felt when he realized his fame and fortune had failed to make him happy.
Perhaps you have discovered this same phenomenon. Don’t feel alone, for I too have experienced it. I see it all around and can assure you that the people I know who have the most toys, fame, etc. are pretty f—ing miserable as well.
Eckhart Tolle offers the best metaphor I ever heard about the meaning of achievements and events in our lives when he said,
“You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.”
This is exactly what I have discovered. We are larger than what happens in our lives. The achievements and events that occur are just passing by. They teach us things, but they move on. We don’t own them forever, like the car or house you once possessed; they were yours for a while, and then you and they went your separate ways.
The realignment you and I need to make is to realize that every life is valuable (regardless of their worldly status). Every person is having experiences they can learn and grow from. There is no comparative value to the titles and trophies people receive in life. They are simply experiences that are part of the life curriculum given to each individual. Their true meaning is between that person and their Higher Power.
So, if you are like me and notice that you compare yourself to others by their societal status, here is what you can do to stop this from influencing you.
Start by recognizing that this comparing to others is a part of you. Embrace this part, own it. When you do, you will lose your fear of it and begin to recognize the extent of its language and influence when it rears its head. Then you can bring in the other thoughts, like the ones I mentioned about the value of all lives, so you can offset these edicts you believed the world demands for accomplishments. While you are at it, embrace everything that you are and celebrate it.
Another healthy alternative is to live in the moment and stop worrying about the future or living in the past.
There are other good choices you can make. Shed expectations of yourself and others. Forgive those who wronged you. Most importantly, learn to forgive yourself over past decisions and actions you made so you can the find the peace that lives within you.
Finally, think of all the things you are grateful for and blessed to have in your life, even if it is something as simple as the roof over your head, or the ability to breathe in fresh air.
If you want to use a standard by which to establish your value, try this one, aim to be compassionate, loving and giving to others, no matter the setting that you find yourself in, for these are the essential elements of your life purpose.
As the famous boxer, Muhammad Ali said,
“The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
Being of service to the greater good is the true meaning of life. This is what makes you a joyful winner. You will not find true joy in worldly things that you chase after.