Wedding invitations in the mail.
Christmas cards with pictures of happy toddlers playing in the park with Doobie the dog.
Friends graduating medical school.
Others landing top clerking jobs at prestigious law firms around the country.
Your cousins who started their home improvement blog to show how they are slowly rebuilding their mansion/home from scratch.
Your best friend who is Employee Number 3 at a tech company that’s going to be so big she can’t even disclose its name to you.
Why is it that all the people in your life seem to be getting their acts together? Why do their dreams and desires come true, but you’ve felt stuck for years?
Their lives seem to be falling perfectly into place in terms of careers, relationships, families and finances. They seem to have it all together. Life seems so much kinder to them than it has been to you.
You may be asking yourself why life is so easy for others, but an out-and-out struggle for you. Other people’s lives are like graceful dances, while your life is like a tragic Shakespearean play or a Rocky movie during which the main character gets his lights punched out.
This is my life story too.
Coming from a fairly successful family, the dark horse, the white zebra and the orange swan.
Coming from a family in which both brothers are doctors (one of whom treats cancer patients) can lead a person to think he’s a total failure.
But I’m a lawyer, aren’t I? True, but you all know that I quit my career in the legal profession to pursue the things that interested me.
And while both of my brothers are doctors saving the world, married to wonderful women and starting families, I’m doing anything but.
I quit my profession. Got divorced. I spend most of my day writing articles about life, spiritual pursuits and coaching people who have hit rock bottom in life.
Some of my cousins manage major corporations around the world. Another cousin works for one of the richest men in India. Other family members are running successful restaurants and hotels.
Attorney classmates are building six-figure businesses, working in sweet jobs and getting elected to political office. At times I read about them in the newspaper and see them on television.
Others are getting married, having cute children, building beautiful homes and traveling regularly, but my reality is far removed from this world.
I could easily compare myself to them and think that my life sucks, but I’ve stopped going down that road, even though my mind wants to take me there.
It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but it’s not constructive, helpful or productive.
Not only do you feel incompetent and disempowered, you start following other people’s dreams or buying into society’s definition of success.
Society might beat the loud drum of what success means, but you don’t have to play that game.
You don’t have to compare your life to reality TV or base it on the ways other people portray their lives on Facebook or Instagram. The things that bring happiness to others won’t necessarily bring happiness to you.
How do you avoid the comparison trap and find success in your own life?
1) Stop measuring yourself against other people’s rules of success.
Previous generations have shaped today’s society so that we value certain things: academic achievement, large salaries, fancy homes and fancy cars.
But the fact that everyone in society pursues these things doesn’t make the pursuit correct or logical.
Even if the rest of society is driving a bullet train to Crazyville, you don’t have to stay on board. And if bungee jumping becomes the new fad, you don’t have to say a prayer and jump.
You’ll feel bad about not measuring up, but ask yourself ““ what do you need to measure up to?
Society has defined success on its terms. It tells you how it sees success ““ your paycheck, your reputation, your living situation. But simply because society sees success one way doesn’t make that view right for you.
Instead of opting for society’s preconceived notions of success, go within yourself and be true to your values and your happiness.
Measure happiness by your standards, not by the things society expects you to accomplish or achieve.
2) You’re watching their highlight reels, not their day-to-day lives.
Remember ““ most of the time, you’re watching people’s lives from their Facebook walls, their party appearances and their public selves.
You have no idea what people are going through.
The most perfect couple may be having serious marital difficulties. The highly achieved stockbroker friend whom everyone in your community loves could be a crook. The perfect family you meet at dinner could be on non-speaking terms.
What looks good on the outside often does not reflect reality. Most of the time, people are not living authentic lives. They are living the lives they want you to see.
Just know that you’re not getting the full picture. Images of cute, smiling babies and tropical vacations could be covering depression, sadness and misery.
I’d argue that the more people try to show how good their lives are, the more difficulties and problems they’re experiencing.
3) Focus on your growth, happiness and desires.
So what do you do? Feel paralyzed and trapped by your brother’s success or your sister’s perfect life?
Or do you ignore what they’re doing, ignore the messages that society screams at the top of its lungs and set up a game plan you can win?
What makes you happy at work? Are you doing that? What brings you meaning in your life? Are you doing that?
See, the worst-case scenario is that you don’t measure up to society’s expectations and that you continually do what makes you unhappy.
You can’t play by society’s rules and win. If society tells you that you’re successful only if you live in a certain part of town and own a certain car, you’ll feel disempowered, as though you don’t measure up.
But if you do what makes you happy, do work that makes you smile and create a day packed with fulfilling things, you win.
To live a conscious and authentic life, you have to get honest with yourself. What do you really want out of life? What is your purpose? What are your values?
Know this: What others do and what they have achieved may not be right for you. The fact that lots of people want to attain certain things or reach certain income levels doesn’t make those goals right for you.
Don’t get caught up in the herd mentality of a society that wants you to conform to it.
4) Be patient ““ you have your own path to take and lessons to learn.
If you feel that others are getting ahead in life, that life seems to be falling in place for them, hold on one quick second.
Your life may not be where you want it to be, but your path is different from others’ paths.
You may have to work on yourself. You may have more growth and learning in store. You may have lessons yet to learn.
For your life to fall into place, before you’re able to soar, you have to gain wisdom and acquire experiences.
And often when you feel like you’re hurting and your life is in the dumps, you’re experiencing the most growth and gaining the most insight into yourself.
You might believe your breakdowns are your downfall when, in fact, they’re really preparing you for your greatest breakthrough.
5) What do you want?
You can start living your life in ways that have nothing to do with other people.
Instead of looking over your shoulder or comparing yourself to others, look at yourself, examine your own life and figure out what you want from it.
What are your values? What do you find important? What are your guiding principles? Have you considered working with a coach to determine your values? Are you trying to live and stay true to them?
Do you see it? What are your recurring dreams and aspirations? What do you visualize about? What do you see yourself doing? What visions have shown up in your life since childhood?
Your guide. What are your intuition and inner guide telling you to do? Remove your ego and your comparison-based aspirations from what your heart truly desires. This can be difficult because society’s call is so loud and might be influencing your aspirations.
Separate yourself from the pressures and demands of your family, neighbors and coworkers.
What is your heart saying and what is your soul speak?
What do you want?
6) Be thankful for the things you have.
Sure, your staycation may not measure up to a trip to the Fijian islands.
And your backyard wedding may not compete with your best friend’s Hawaiian wedding luau.
Your shy and nervous German Shepherd may not measure up to your neighbor’s award-winning English Setter, which bags trophies at international dog shows.
You can’t keep up, measure up or win the game of comparisons on a daily basis.
You have two options: compare and cry, or be thankful for what you have.
No, you don’t have a world-famous gourmet chef whipping up your dinner but you do have enough money for groceries, a husband who can cook, and some organic carrots for that Chinese stir fry.
You don’t have a spelling-bee-champion kid like the Ramachandrans next door, but your kid is a kind soul who completes her chores without complaint and plays Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata flawlessly on the violin. (Or your kid simply grows up to be a happy teenager who enjoys playing sports and who doesn’t do drugs or get tattoos!!)
What are you grateful for today? I’ve found that the act of reminding myself about the good things in my life is the best way to live and be content.
What if you’re not grateful for anything? Get basic here, people. Food, shelter and a roof over your head? Write that down. Friends, birthday presents and a free refill at Starbucks? Yup, that goes on your gratefulness list too.
Be thankful for the blessings in your life, no matter how small. Acknowledgments of small blessings add up.
7) Be an original and live your own truth.
Why be a carbon copy when you can stand out?
Why follow a boring, predestined path to an unfulfilling life?
Why live other people’s dreams and follow the paths they’ve taken?
No, your life may not be in line with society’s values or the lives of people your parents brag about, but your life is your own.
You’re traveling a unique path, growing and learning at your own pace.
Instead of arriving at the final destination of happiness and success, you enjoy every moment of your journey there. You find happiness in the little things and enjoy success in your own way every day.
Just because you’re not in the newspaper or your work doesn’t make the television news doesn’t mean that you’re not inspiring kids in a classroom, making your work colleagues laugh or loving your family at home.
Just because you’re not on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans doesn’t mean you’re not raising your kids well and growing as a person.
Learn to embrace your unique life journey and path.
You’re living life and finding happiness on your own terms. So what if that life doesn’t conform to society’s expectations of success?
Tune out society’s loud, imposing demands.
You can’t play that game and win. If you try to keep up with the Joneses or the Jeffersons, you’ll always fall behind. Someone will always be more successful, better looking or richer than you are. Someone will always be doing cooler things than you are, and living it up bigger than you are.
Life isn’t a marathon in which you must nail the best time and beat others to the finish line.
You’re in a race with yourself.
Enjoy the run.
Get there on your own terms and at your own pace.
Do better today than you did yesterday.
Keep moving forward.
Don’t keep your eyes on the competition.
Forget about the medals, honors or prestige that society will give you.
Keep your eyes on the prize ““ a meaningful and fulfilling life.
A happy life lived the way you want to live it.