In the words of Ricky Bobby, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
It’s a ridiculous saying but one that perfectly sums up the mentality we have created for ourselves. If you’re not first then you’re losing the game of life, and boy is it a stiff competition. You can find all of the top competitors through social media and from there you can compare yourself to their success.
If you’re not a top competitor, there are numerous articles and books that claim to teach you how to become the “best in the world at what you do.” We ravenously consume these pieces in an effort to better ourselves, and the message is clear — It’s not okay to be good or even great anymore. We have to be exceptional.
Challenging ourselves to be better is a good thing, but our fixation with excellence is not. Constantly feeling pressure to do more, be more, accomplish more, is not good for our mental wellbeing.
Social comparison is a tool we often use to determine normative standards and to evaluate our performance. Before social media, this behavior was mainly limited to classmates, family, friends, and coworkers. Now, the internet allows us to compare ourselves to everyone.
I personally follow a lot of talented women on Medium and other social sites. The fact that some of them are younger than me is tough to accept sometimes. Self-deprecation really sets in when I see younger women reaching goals I’ve struggled with for a long time. It feels like proof that I do not have what it takes to succeed — clearly I should’ve hit certain milestones already as these younger women have far exceeded my accomplishments.
Upward social comparison is considered a risk factor for depressive symptoms. When we are constantly measuring our accomplishments against those we admire, we run the risk of negatively impacting our self-esteem. It can feel like our own achievements and milestones are never good enough.
We all want to be special. It feels good to hold up our achievements and receive praise for our skills and accomplishments. What we have to be careful about is pursuing our goals for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to covet the success of others and feel worthless in their shadow.
We run the risk of obsessing over status when we focus on idols as measures of our success. If you want to be extraordinary, you shouldn’t be trying to copy the people who came before you.
Stop comparing yourself to others and take a moment to consider what exceptional looks like to you — don’t consider anyone else’s standards. Perhaps for you, being extraordinary is as simple as showing kindness to strangers, even when they’re rude. Or giving back to the community through food drives and volunteer work.
We think being extraordinary means fame and fortune. The truth is, there are plenty of exceptional “ordinary” people. We just don’t get the opportunity to read about them in magazines or see them on TV.
If you’ve been feeling unaccomplished it’s time to take a step back and start seeing the extraordinary people in your own community. Consider how you could make a difference closer to home instead of attempting to reach the world right from the gate.
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