There are some days when you feel defeated from the moment you open your eyes in the morning (if you don’t: TELL ME YOUR SECRETS). For me, this feeling stems from the disturbing concept of comparison. As much as I try to start each and every day with a positive mindset, every now and then this cruel little villain appears on my shoulder telling me where I should be at this point in my life versus where I actually am.
So, the story goes something like this: Go to high school. Graduate. Go away to college. Graduate with a degree in XYZ. Get a job doing X, Y, and/or Z and love it. Move out on your own and live happily ever after (somewhere along the timeline I think relationships and marriage fit in, perhaps even grad school, but that is beyond the point). I don’t know exactly who created this old-world story, but if you are anything like me, straying away from this timeline can make you feel like you are doing something wrong or are failing at life.
I am still living at the house I grew up in. I graduated college in May of 2013 and moved back home to job-search, save money, and the like. Then, I got a job, loathed it and the person I was becoming after 6 months of working there, and I decided to quit to pursue what I am passionate about. That brings us to today. I have unwillingly developed this torturous habit of comparing myself to others that graduated around the same time as me – especially the ones who seem to have it all together. You know… the ones who are working a glamorous job and travel to foreign places for “work” and live on their own with adorable puppies and seemingly have enough money to still go out to the best bars and parties and concerts? Cue obsessive self-comparing now.
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Comparison will always lead to a defeatist attitude, consequently forcing you into the deep waters of self-doubt and depression. This brings me back to society’s unambiguous standards and the constant disapproval of millennials from the old world. Anything that drifts in the slightest bit from the planned-out idea of how life is supposed to go is frowned upon in society. I find myself thinking, “Should I just take whatever job is offered to me so I can make money and move out so that I’m on the right path?” or “Should I have stayed at that job I hated just because that is what is expected of me?” and so-on. More often than not I find that other people I know in their early twenties are working full- or part-time jobs that they dislike, or that are completely unrelated to what they are passionate about, because they feel like this is what is expected of them or they fear what will happen if they veer from the normal path. Ask the baby-boomer generation and they’ll likely tell you that this is how life is SUPPOSED to be at our age – working just to say you are working, no matter if you like it or if it makes sense to who you are as a person. But, who says this is the only way to live?
Here is a quick reminder to every twenty-something (including myself): Time is relative. Time is abstract and deceiving and inconsistent and dynamic. Sure, one could argue that everyone has the same amount of hours in a day or the same amount of days in a year. But, not everyone’s days start and end at the same time. Time is an imaginary concept that readily invites the disastrous obsession of comparison. There is not one set timeline for how life should go; your life is as unique as you are. Stop thinking of your life as having guidelines. Stop thinking that you are “wasting time,” just because you may not be at the same stage in life as someone else your age. The only time you are actually wasting is the time you’ve spent thinking that you are “wasting time.”
Here are five things you can do to forget about imaginary time and snap out of the obsessive-comparison funk.
- Realize that sometimes, getting out of bed is enough. For many of us who are still trying to figure it all out, it’s tough to find reasons to climb out of your cozy, safe cocoon in the mornings. Get motivated by something, anything, even the tiniest thing, and get out of bed. You will feel loads better just by being the slightest bit more energetic.
- Stay off of social media. The one incredibly damaging thing about social media is the ability to stay up-to-date on other people’s lives. Yes, it’s nice to stay in touch, but it is also the headquarters for obsessive comparison. If you find yourself susceptible to the darkness, do yourself a favor and stay away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. While you’re at it, turn off your mobile too. You will immediately feel liberated and be able to take on the world.
- Make lists. Lists of things that make you happy, lists of things that inspire you, lists of things you are proud of, lists of things that you want to improve, lists of things you want to accomplish, and anything else you can think of. You could even make a journal of lists or do one of those 30 days of lists challenges. This will keep your mind primarily focused on YOU and not obsessing over others.
- Take a nap. Occasionally, the anxiety and depression that stems from comparing yourself to others gets to be too much to bear and the only way out of it is to take a break from the world. That’s ok. Sleep it off. Chances are you will wake up with a brand new outlook.
- Do something that scares you. There really is nothing that will make you feel more alive and liberated and help you forget about the imaginary time restrictions on life than doing something that scares you. It could be something minor like confronting someone about an argument you had, or apologizing to someone, or, if you are feeling extremely brave, it could be something major. Think driving somewhere foreign with no GPS or maps. Or bungee jumping. Make yourself feel something and tune out the noise around you.
Remember that just because someone else your age might be living his or her life one way, doesn’t mean that same way is right for you. There is no specific age in which you need to accomplish certain things. Live on your own terms and forget what everyone else is doing, and always remind yourself that time is relative.