Comparing apples and orangesThe Gay Boy Next Door Thursday, June 9th, 2011
Social Chaos: The Gay Boy Next Door
I have a bad habit of comparing my accomplishments to those of acquaintances, celebrities and artists. Some of these comparisons make me feel woefully inadequate. Without trophies or a standardized life progress bar marked with universal signs of success, I’m left drowning in confusion, competition and the pressure to do more with my life.
I constantly have to remind myself that there’s no wrong way to live and that, no matter where or how I end up, I’ll be fine. I might not be rich, married, on the cover of magazines or the inventor of the Post-it note, but I have to be doing some things right and I need to be proud of who and what I am. This means I should probably stop with the less-than-helpful comparisons to people I hardly know.
The other day at swim practice, some guys were talking about age and experience between laps and laughed as I came in to the wall. “Oh, the 24-year-old … you’ll be lucky if you make anything of your life,” one doctor baited me.
Having just spent the better part of 400 yards contemplating and stressing about my future, this felt like a shocking, well-placed punch to the gut. “Do you feel like you’ve made something of your life?” I asked back with genuine curiosity and a touch of anxiety. “I think so, but at your age I was just in med school,” he responded coolly before going back underwater. My first thought was, “F*ck!”
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there’s no one way to define “making something” of life. I should never doubt myself or my successes based on what someone else says or does. “You don’t even want to be a doctor!” I yelled at myself.
I’m developing my own set of strengths on my unique timeframe. Comparing myself to others, especially those with unrelated goals, is silly and creates unnecessary stress that only hinders personal growth and accomplishment.
Unfortunately, I can’t always stop myself from stressing or making these comparisons. Basing personal goals on others’ successes is a part of being human in society and can actually be helpful when done with a modicum of restraint.
Note to self: just because I want to write a Broadway show one day does not mean I need to start hating my life because I’m not Stephen Sondheim. Some comparisons are much more effective and life-enhancing than others.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “Compare yourself to someone your own age!” But that’s not the answer, trust me. The trick to a healthy, goal-shaping life comparison is a little deeper than that. I know because I die a little inside every time someone brings up the fact that the world’s most influential woman, our Lady of Gaga, is just a few months older than me.
See, I’ve realized that my obsessions and bouts of envy only come when shallowly observing the successes of others. It’s easier for me to be jealous of acquaintances and celebrities because I do not see their personal suffering and setbacks – I only see their good sides!
The fact is that all successes come with accompanying obstacles. Lady Gaga, Stephen Sondheim and my pretty pool doctor each face their own problems and personal brand of crazy. If I saw their bad sides or the shit they face on a daily basis, I might not be so consumed with non-functional and non-constructive jealousy.
Therefore, I’ve concluded that the best types of idols are those with goal-relevancy and, most importantly, established personal intimacy. By basing my goals and comparing my life to mentors and good friends who share my interests and with whom I’m familiar, I’m able to truly weigh both good and bad effects of pertinent choices and related accomplishments. This way, I actually benefit and learn from making comparisons rather than just feeling envious or anxious.
The flip side of this lesson is equally valuable to me and my life. Just because I perceive a person to be less successful by my standards does not mean they are less valuable as a person.
Life is a strategy game of choice and personal values – what works for one, does not necessarily work for another. I can envy Gaga all I want for her incredible success, but there’s no denying she’s right about one thing: we are all on the right track, baby.
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