Let me in you on a secret, I am an optimization freak. I am constantly trying to optimize various things in my life. This has led to a constant in my life, failure. Failure to me comes in various ways, sometimes I am too lazy to stick to my routines, other times I don’t perform to up to the mark, and every so often my brain and mind do not cooperate. But, this post is not about failures, it is about how I was failing more often than I needed to and how I had been inflating the size of these failures. I was doing it by comparing myself to others.

We all hear the advice ‘Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself’.’ Honestly, hardly anyone of us actually follow it. Moreover, the people who say it to us often contradict themselves by saying things like ‘If he can do it so can you’ (subtle!) or ‘You both are in the same class, have the same teacher, so why couldn’t you score well?’ We also have an epidemic of motivational videos on social media platforms like YouTube, most of them either indirectly or directly shove you on the path of people you admire, and you end up comparing yourself to them. We all are constantly weighing our value against others in our minds beam balance, and society not only encourages it, but often is persistent that we ought to do it.

Trying not to compare myself to others is extremely hard for me because all my life I have used it as a crutch to propel myself forward. Thoughts like ‘Usko karke dikhata huin! (Let me do it and show him/her!)’ and ‘No one should be able to do it better than me’ were always swimming lazily in my mind, trying to put them in an aquarium to eventually throw them out has been, well, tough.

Truth be told after even making the slightest progress, my drive to work dropped, at least temporarily. Slowly it rose back up. I also realized that I cannot be a better version of myself everyday. Improvement is like a business graph; it drops and rises. To get the real picture we have to zoom out a bit to see if the bigger picture shows an upward graph, if it does we are on the right path, if doesn’t, well tweak a few things at least one screw might be lose or a wire not plugged in.  

The reason I wanted to make this change was because it was doing more harm than good. My failures were more frequent and larger when I compared myself to others, because no matter how well I did someone was better than me. This in turn resulted in emotions like jealousy. Even when I consciously decided to let go of something, someone else achieving or receiving it gave birth to drops of jealousy. The other thing it did was give me ego boosts. Whenever in my opinion I had done something better than someone else or thought that I was better at something than someone else (or everyone else) thoughts like ‘Dekha!’ or ‘Told ya!’ emerged.

I still often compare myself to others and dive into ego boosts and jealousy, but know I am aware of these emotions and thoughts and am trying catch the fish to put it in an aquarium. I am miles away from getting completely rid of this vice, but if I look at the graph zoomed out, I think the frequency and intensity of these emotions is dropping. It’s a long trail and I am ready to hike.

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Samarth Khanna

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