The best at everything

A fascinating part of the human experience is our urge to compare ourselves with others. Like everything else in life, this has positive and negative consequences.

Comparison can act as a driver for positive change. When you see someone you know do well in an area that matters to you, you might push yourself to be better. This works well for zero sum games like sports, business and politics.

In such cases, the metrics for comparison are quantifiable (points scored, revenue generated, seats won). One’s gain is often directly related to another’s loss. Hence, comparison begets the outperformance of competitors, making it an effective tool for progress.

However, when this oversimplified framework is applied to more intricate and less tangible facets of life, such as personal well-being, emotional relationships, and even creative endeavours, there can be detrimental consequences.

How do you quantify mental peace, emotional stability, or the quality of your relationships? How can you independently judge creative outputs as being better or worse when personal style, audience, and intent have such a huge influence on it?

In such cases, the act of comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy, curb expression, and give rise to negativity (e.g. jealousy).

A related but subtly flawed idea that I think about these days is the desire to be the best at everything. This desire, while masquerading as a noble pursuit of personal growth, often does more harm than good.

When we compare ourselves with others, we don’t do a like-to-like comparison. We choose the best attributes of x different people and measure ourselves against this curated collection. For example, you see A excelling at work and want to emulate that. You long for a physique like B who is muscular and toned. And you seek a happy relationship like C who keeps on posting cute pictures on Instagram.

In most cases, if you care to look beyond these best attributes, you will find that the complete reality tends to be slightly different.

A got an accelerated promotion but her bio-markers are off (despite being fairly young) and has no work-life balance.

B has an extremely chill remote job that allows him to spend 2 hours in the gym and eat bland meals day in day out to maintain his shape.

C’s public portrayal of love on social media is not representative of the drama that they go through privately.

If you think about it, you never want to be completely like A, B or C. You just pick the best of what they have/what you see and want to be a culmination of these attributes.

I am not saying that you can’t have all the good things that you admire in others. You definitely can. But not at once and not now. Time, intent, and effort are constraints that prevent you from optimising unconditionally across dimensions.

A good way to think about this is that at any moment in time, you should have just one desire—one thing that you compare yourself with others on. This should be followed by taking action to achieve your desired state. You should be content with slow progress in other areas of your life—having items on the back burner.

This choice of desire that you pick for yourself should stem from mindful aspiration. You should set challenging goals and try your best to accomplish them. But these should be your goals—things that you want to achieve because they have inherent meaning to you. These should not be what you see everyone else doing. Social media is ever so persuasive—convincing you to compare yourself unnecessarily on parameters that you wouldn’t have cared for had it not been for your algorithmic feed.

That is all I have to say on this topic. For more wisdom, you should watch this great Oscar acceptance speech by Matthew McConaughey.

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