Comedian Louis CK does this bit about how NYC does an amazing job of putting you in your place no matter how good things are. Here’s a segment from his show…
“If you woke up that morning feeling particularly good looking, don’t worry because on your way to work, you’ll pass a pack of supermodels at the top of their game. If you closed the biggest financial deal of your life, don’t worry because on the train you’ll overhear another person bragging about closing an even bigger deal.”
I’ve experienced being put in my place first hand when flying in and out of NYC, which I do often for work. If I’m flying in and out of anywhere else in the country, my frequent flyer status on American Airlines will usually get me upgraded to nice seats on the plane. But if I’m flying in or out of NYC, I’m lucky if I can get an aisle seat away from the bathroom. There are just so many more people who have even higher AA status than me.
Louis’ comedy bit has been on my mind lately because I’ve had ongoing feelings of anxiety around not being good enough. I first noticed the feeling a year ago when I was at the doctor’s office doing my annual check-up. The doctor told me everything looked great and that I should keep doing what I’m doing. I pushed back on him…
“But there’s got to be something wrong that I can be working on. What else can I be doing?”
I dismissed the positive nature of getting a clean bill of health from my doctor. Instead, I was seeing friends who were running marathons and at the top of their game. I was wondering why I wasn’t at that level. And because I wasn’t at their level, I felt like I must be doing something wrong.
In work, we are very close to hitting our goals for 2015, which is great news considering the year isn’t even half way over yet. Even though this should be received as great news, I still feel anxiety around not doing enough at work. Why? Because instead of looking internally for measures of success, I’m comparing my work to others around me who seem to be doing even more and seeing how far behind I am, not how far I’ve come.
In my marriage with Annie, we smile and laugh with each other from early morning to late at night. We’re equally as happy experiencing new things or sitting at home watching a movie. We forgive each other on mistakes and we don’t sweat the small stuff. I can’t remember the last time we argued because we usually talk things out long before any smoke turns into fire. I truly couldn’t ask for a better life partner. But yet the anxiety creeps in, and I ask myself what more I should be doing because I see other couples who seem to be living at a higher level of marital bliss than us.
A common theme that shows up in all three situations is that my anxiety grows when I’m comparing my success to others and finding my worth and happiness out of that comparison. I recognize that’s a dangerous road to travel.
I consider myself a compassionately competitive person. I want to see everyone succeed in life, I just want to succeed a little bit more. I can see how this mindset feeds into my anxiety because it naturally implies I need to compare to others to figure out my level of success. I also think living in NYC amplifies the comparisons.
When I presented on this topic to my peer support group last week, the resounding response back was that fulfillment and happiness in life aren’t found in comparing to others, but rather defining, internally, what would make you happy, independent of others. Don’t make your happiness be dependent on external measures. Also, if you are competitive, turn that energy inwards and compete against yourself to reach the goals you want to achieve.
While intellectually I understand, it’s going to be a process for me to turn that into action and reduce my anxiety.
Following up from my presentation, my actions steps are:
1) Write a reflective blog post on the topic. (DONE)
2) Review my personal goals to align with what would make me most fulfilled.
3) Celebrate my successes based on my goals.
4) Keep a log of when I find myself comparing to others and note how it feels.
5) Read: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.