Perceptions of success
From a distance, I would see a person graduating college with honors and pursuing their dream, another person securing a scholarship abroad, another managing a successful business, and another being genuinely happy.
And from a distance, they would also see me — someone who’s doing pretty well with their life. They would see the achievements, the edited photos, and the fake smiles and laughter. At an arm’s length, they would get a glimpse of the struggles that I have to go through to achieve what I currently have. They would briefly see the disappointment on my face after every failure, the cries for help during a difficult task, and the sadness that overcomes my entire being after a bad day. And from up close, they would see the real me — an insecure and anxious person desperately trying to make a name for myself in the world. They would see the back-to-back breakdowns, the sleepless nights, the negative thoughts that often paralyze me, and the incessant prayers to God in hopes that everything will once again go in my favor.
I used to be terrified of letting them see me up close because, from a distance, I look genuinely happy, too.
Although our fascination with comparison and competitiveness isn’t new, it definitely has escalated in the last decade or so, especially with the emergence of social media and how we share images, highlights, successes, trips, milestones, and more in such a public and visible way. I like being able to celebrate the great things that are happening in other people’s lives while also sharing some of my own on social media.
At the same time, depending on how I’m feeling about myself, my career, my body and looks, my relationships, my future, my family, or anything else, it can be a double-edged sword.
When you look closely, you’d find that I’m easily triggered by other people’s successes, which makes me feel horrible about myself and my life. I am frequently delighted and encouraged by the achievement of others, particularly those close to me. However, it sometimes elicits sentiments of envy, insecurity, and inadequacy, especially when someone achieves or has an experience that I desire. These sentiments arise when I am concerned that I will not be able to achieve the same level of success.
And so, up close, you’d see my regret about the chances I was not able to take, my frustration with my adequacy, and my self-doubts as I question if they’re better than me or what they did to deserve what I didn’t get.
You’d also see that I may have a propensity, particularly with certain individuals, to gloat secretly about my accomplishments to feel superior. This is my attempt to hide behind that thick layer of self-confidence and self-reassurance and to keep people at a distance. It is because I know that from a distance, they’d think I’m doing everything at ease — those good things came to me easily. I didn’t need to try that hard. And that maybe, from up close, I’d see that they also feel the same pent-up jealousy, insecurity, and inferiority.
This is difficult to confront and admit, however. I know that feeling both superior and inferior is harmful to my growth, prosperity, and, eventually, peace of mind.
Others’ success is unrelated to mine, and my success is unrelated to anybody else’s. That’s all there is to it. I know that I need to stop comparing myself to others as it is the only way to end the comparison game. In life, we all face struggles and obstacles, and success looks different for everyone.
Life is short, so why must I waste my valuable time competing with others and worrying about how I compare to them? After all, one fantastic aspect of life is there’s enough love, success, and happiness to go around. It is not scarce enough to only be for those that I look at from a distance. As such, when I see someone has something in their life that I want, I look at the lesson: how can I achieve this on my own terms?
Although it can’t be taken away completely, I know that when harnessed correctly, jealousy is a powerful motivator that helps me clarify my desires and moves me toward getting what I really want in life.
And so, maybe, it’s fine to see people and let them see me up close. Being near others who are working hard to achieve success can be incredibly encouraging, inspiring, and motivating. When I live with this “abundance” mindset, I am able to liberate myself from the continual tension, anxiety, fear, and pressure that comes with having a “scarce” mindset.
With this, I know that whether it’d be from a distance, an arm’s length, or up close, I will be all right.
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Natalya Patolot, 21, is a fourth-year student at Ateneo de Manila University.
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