When people ask me what I’m doing these days, I reach for one of several canned answers:
• Short and sweet: “I’m a writer.”
• Ambitious: “I’m getting certified as a health coach, building an audience for my blog, and running an online business.”
• Mysterious: “I work for myself.”
• Awkward: “Uh, yeah. Bunch of stuff. Doing the whole blogging thing, making a little money. (Long pause). So, what are you up to lately?”
If I’m lucky, the conversation moves to the other person, never to return to my vaguely unsatisfying response.
On one hand, I’m all of those things: writer, health coach, entrepreneur, and more. But on the other, I’m none of them. Shouldn’t a writer have a large following of loyal fans? Shouldn’t a health coach have high paying clients? Isn’t an entrepreneur supposed to make deals while whipping his Tesla through the streets of San Francisco?
That’s success, right? And if not, why do I seem to think it is?
Here’s the thing. I’ve noticed that everyone I read, listen to, or follow on social media is unusually accomplished. This is bound to happen. The most talented, prolific people will get the most attention. They deserve it.
I’m talking about, in my case at least, the Mark Sissons, Tim Ferrisses, and Ben Greenfields of the world. Those three, in particular, have been like mentors to me. They’ve taught me how to eat healthier, work smarter, and biohack like a pro.
I mean, they’re the best at what they do. It’s no surprise they’re so popular.
Take Tim Ferriss. He’s accomplished a lot, from hosting the number one podcast on iTunes, to writing five bestselling books, to making millions in startup investing. He’s in the 1% of 1% in many categories. So hoping to achieve what Ferriss has achieved would be, in a word, madness.
Yet following Ferriss has, whether I intended it or not, caused me to define my success in terms of his success. Which doesn’t make my success look much like success at all. Ouch.
But this happens to all of us. We hear about successful people, then imagine we fall short by comparison. I call this the Comparing Mind.
The first thing to understand is that we can’t switch off the Comparing Mind. Maybe a Tibetan lama can, but we can’t. Like it or not, our comparison software will always be running in the background.
We can, however, meditate on the absurdity of the Comparing Mind. I’ll give you some examples.
In the business world, for instance, the Comparing Mind doesn’t care about the size of a raise. It only cares if it’s bigger than a co-worker’s raise. This is silly, and the silliness goes all the way up the food chain. For instance, when CEO pay was made public in 1992, it triggered the Comparing Mind in thousands of executives across America. Wait, she’s making what?? As a result, CEO pay spiraled upwards like a whirligig. Good for the CEOs. Not so good for the shareholders.
The takeaway is that the Comparing Mind thinks in terms of relative achievement, not absolute achievement. If we don’t know about the other person, we don’t even make the comparison. Good to know.
Know what else is good to know? That the Comparing Mind goes both ways. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably more fortunate than 7.5 of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants. You should feel good about that.
I know I’m not the first person to make this point. But it’s super helpful for putting things in perspective.
Finally, understand that the Comparing Mind is blind. It’s blind to the fact that “successful people” are only human. Beneath all their outward triumph, they’re as flawed as the rest of us.
Tim Ferriss, in fact, wrote a revealing blog post on this topic a few years ago. In the article, Ferriss admitted he was seeing a therapist and that he often struggles to get out of bed in the morning. So even superstars like Tim Ferriss don’t, as they say, have it easy.
None of us have it easy, of course. I certainly don’t. But I’m making it easier by noticing my Comparing Mind in action.
And when I catch my Comparing Mind doing its thing, I remember that it doesn’t matter what other people are doing.
It matters what I’m doing, and how I feel doing it.
But what, exactly, am I doing these days? Um, let me get back to you on that.
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