There will always be someone who is better than you
If you only measure yourself against external recognition, the harsh reality of life is that there will always be someone who is better than you. Even when you reach the highest position or achieve the most prestigious award within your chosen field, the next day, week, month, year, someone else will make a better film, run a faster time, make more money, be the top author, be promoted, win your award. And this is a good thing, as it means the bar is constantly being raised for us all to achieve more.
Positive action versus outcome
Striving to be the best, is not a bad thing, but holding too tightly to an unachievable outcome, I believe, is. If you achieve successes, celebrate them. Acknowledge what you have accomplished, take the accolades, let them really sink in so you can appreciate how awesome you are. Internalise that feeling and forever hold onto it so you can call on it when you need a reminder that you are amazing. You have control over this, you have control over setting your own personal goals and trying to better yourself or to remain the best you can be in your chosen area - but you don’t have control over how you ‘measure up’ against everyone else as there are way too many variables outside of your control. For example, if you are going for a job interview, preparation is key. You can research the company and interviewers, practice the examples you will share to demonstrate your experience and skills, you can visualise the interview going well, you can be authentic, enthusiastic and professional in the interview - these are all things within your control (and things I definitely encourage you to do!). However, you can’t control if the interviewer will appreciate your examples or if another candidate is a better match for the company. You can give the very best interview you can, but there is not a guarantee you will achieve the outcome you desire of the job promotion. However, if you can accept what is within your control and develop and improve within this, you can feel proud of what you are doing and achieving, regardless of the outcome.
Why do we pride ourselves on being unique and then constantly compare ourselves to others?
I’m not a huge fan of comparisons as we are all different and all unique - two people watching the same film will experience it differently because of things that have happened to them, their interpretations, their education, their beliefs - these all impact on how we view and experience everything. Yet, in life, we spend our time comparing ourselves based on external measures - to the person that got the job, to the person who got the higher grade, to the person who has the smaller waistline - not appreciating that they have had a different journey to us, not necessarily better or worse, just different.
Steven Pressfield in The War of Art talks about social and territorial hierachies. In a professional sense we use job roles as social hierarchies - for example, the CEO is higher than Director, who is higher than manager etc. The same can be true in life in terms of ‘life expectations’ - the ‘expectation’ to go to university, start a career, progress up the career ladder, buy a house, have a child, own possessions, have financial freedom through savings and investments. These are all ‘steps’ within the social hierarchies that are created around us. The problem with this though is your ‘place’ in the world is always relational to someone/everyone else’s - for example, when you achieve the promotion you have ‘beat’ someone else to the coveted position. You then can fall into the trap of feeling successful because you have achieved the promotion so have elevated yourself in the social hierarchy, rather than feeling successful because you have achieved your own goal, or know you can add value, or that this role will make you happy.
Conversely, Pressfield talks about territorial hierarchies, where you focus on what puts you in ‘flow’ - what makes you happy and what you feel you are destined to do. It is not dependant on someone else’s view of success. It is the development of skills through your own ‘territorial’ or internal map. This can be different for everyone, and will develop and change over time, which is great as it means there is no competition! There are no limitations other than the effort and time you can put into your position within your own hierarchy as you are choosing the targets and ‘levels’ you want to achieve and are happy to progress to.
"The only way to do great work is to love what you do" - Steve Jobs
I do think it is a positive thing to aspire to be great - to have amazing role models and want to achieve similar (or exceed their) accomplishments, if this inspires you and makes your heart sing, but accept you will do things differently to them and your journey will not be identical to theirs - it may take longer, it may be shorter, it may have a few additional stops along the way - all this is okay as it is your journey and you will be learning and developing as you progress along your path. I encourage you to dream big. However, I also encourage you to have a plan of how to get there and to meet yourself where you are at the moment.
I once heard this great analogy - if you are a starting out as a film maker, don’t measure yourself against Star Wars; if you feel that you need to measure yourself, measure yourself against George Lucas’ first works - when he was where you are now. You need to be kind to yourself. To develop skills, whether that is learning to walk, speak, eat for yourself, become an amazing manager, complete your first project, write a dissertation, run a marathon, decorate a room - whatever you are trying to accomplish - you are not born knowing this stuff and it takes time, practice and patience to develop the skills. Why do you feel as an adult you ‘should’ know this stuff or be better than you are, especially if you have never done something before? When you compare yourself to someone else, just remember they are further along in this particular journey than you and at some point they would have been where you are now.
Compete with the only person that matters in this situation
You have a finite amount of time and generally, you don’t know how long that will be. You can choose to spend this time comparing yourself to someone else and berating yourself as to why you are not as ‘good’/’accomplished’/[insert what is important to you here] or you can choose to spend your time deciding what you want to achieve, and trying to be better than you were yesterday; to find the things that put you into ‘flow’ and make you happy; to improve in the areas that are important to you - to become a better communicator, writer, parent, partner; to find a more fulfilling job or get a higher paid position, if that is what you want; to learn new skills and challenge your own thoughts and beliefs; to experience life on your terms; to spend time admiring and celebrating someone else’s achievements and then working out what they did and how they did it, and, if you want to complete similar actions, in your own way, to achieve a similar result, you can choose to do this. This is within your control - you can decide what you want to achieve and consciously go for it - if others then don’t appreciate these efforts or interpret them in the way you intend, that is okay - you cannot control that but you can still feel proud of your own achievements.