Do you compare yourself to others? In a conversation last night, we were talking about how we sometimes invalidate our opportunities. Perhaps we’ve learned that if we enjoy it then we should give it away because others deserve it more than we do. My mother taught me this by giving things I wanted to my sister instead. Even my warmest memory about my mom and me doing something together, she now claims didn’t happen with me – it happened with my sister.
Sometimes getting what we want might make others feel bad about what they don’t have, so we should just let it go. This doesn’t happen to me often, but I do remember when I learned that I was making more money at my job than my mother was making at her job – it was an existential crisis for me: a child should not make more money than their parent, in my mind at the time. Leave aside that we were in completely different fields and in completely different economies; reality did not matter, just my perception of reality.
Maybe we’re not good enough to deserve what we want. Take a job posting – even if you’re not interested, just curious, you might skim down it, checking off in your head: yes, I can do this; yes, I have that experience; yes, I have a Masters; yes, yes, yes – oh, no, they want 6 years of experience doing this or a degree in that. Well, I’d better not apply. Look, job postings are aspirational, often describing perfect candidates that just don’t exist – and most companies will overlook it if you don’t have 100% of the qualifications if you interview well (the issue is getting past HR, who has nothing else to go on but the checklist on the job description). Or, if it did describe you to a T, would it leave you any room for growth. Just go for it, girl! You know a man would apply for that job, even if he didn’t have everything the posting described.
Maybe we can’t figure out what we want because it is buried so far beneath what the world around us tells us that we should want: our family (or our memories of what they taught us), our friends, media, social media – even the displays in the shop windows around us in SOHO last night – all shape our perception of who we should want to be. If we listen to the noise, we will all be thin, extremely well-dressed in completely coordinated clothes; we would make a lot of money, find our passion in work, and have dysfunctional romantic relationships that can never lead to happily ever after (thank you, TV); oh, and our houses will be decorated in shades of grey (ugh). Doesn’t sound like much of a life when you put that way.
I am not unsuccessful in performing my job. But I catch myself, repeatedly, comparing myself to others and coming up short. We’re having a conversation and someone comes up with a great idea or an insight that I didn’t have and boom! the comparisons kick in. My colleagues and clients are so calm, so collected, so experienced; they work on a higher level than I do; they are confident; they know things I don’t know. Blah blah blah blah blah.
It’s a relief when they show a weakness — not because I can triumph over them but because it makes them so much more relatable. A couple of times recently, one of the most capable people I know has – without realizing it, I’m sure – expressed concerns that they are not valued by the organization where they work. They cover it up with “it doesn’t matter, I can get a job anywhere” but it has come up twice in the last two weeks so clearly it’s bothering them.
And it makes me feel better because I know that under that cool, calm, professional exterior – that :I know everything and can handle any situation” persona – there’s a vulnerable person that I can feel compassion for.
Which, for some reason, is a relief.
It’s reassuring that we’re all just people.