I recently met a person I am sure many of you know:
“Oh, you are going to Paris for a vacation? I didn’t know people still went there. It’s very 2006, don’t you think? But I’m sure you’ll have a great time. When you’re there you should make sure to see – oh, wait, they don’t let just anybody in there, do they?”
“Personally, I think buying books is unnecessary nowadays. I just buy them on my iPad. You do have an iPad, don’t you? Oh, I see… Well, I suppose a Kindle isn’t too bad either. Oh, you don’t even have a..? I admire you, I really do – standing up against evolution like that.”
“Master’s Degree? Yeah, that’s a lot of work. I remember when I finished my PhD while I had an internship and simultaneously wrote a book, I could hardly find the time to work out more than four-five times a week. Of course my volunteer work at the animal shelter took a lot of my time as well.”
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to live on the West Side of the city. It’s so much nicer here, you don’t risk running into drug dealers and criminals. You live on the East Side, you say? Ah… Well, I’m sure it’s – charming.”
“In my field of work… Oh, sorry, am I bothering you with details flying over your head?”
I am exaggerating (slightly. Miss Done It All hadn’t written a book). But she acted this way all night, making me (and many others in the party) feel very uncomfortable. No matter what we had or hadn’t done, she had done it better. Rationally I can compare myself to her and know that I don’t actually come out of it too poorly, but it is difficult being rational about things like this. She made me feel inferior, even if I am not.
The Norwegian poet/songwriter Alf Prøysen wrote a song called Æille har ett syskjenbån på Gjøvik [Everyone has a cousin at Gjøvik – Gjøvik is the regional centre to his hometown]. In the song, the main character is passing through life’s many milestones (slight digression, but hey, it’s me, I’m not only allowed, I’m encouraged to digress. Why is it called milestone in English, but milepæl [mile pole] in Norwegian. Did we use poles and you stones? Or are Norwegians merely more fascinated with poles? We do have a number of famous pole explorers, after all… But let’s return to the song…)
The main character is passing through life’s many milestones, but every time he achieves something, his cousin has done something better. In the end, the main character dies, and the cousin merely sends flowers. I guess there is a bitter irony in that – the main character finally outdid his cousin – but since he wasn’t around to gloat I am not sure how much use it did him...
I think it is part of human nature to compare ourselves to others. But why is it so that some chose comparisons where they come out as the winner, while many of us always look to the impossible? I am definitely in the latter category. In a way I am glad, because it allows me to strive for higher achievements. But at the same time, it would be nice to sometimes feel content. Ideally I wish I didn’t compare myself or my own achievements to anyone else at all – I shouldn’t have to compete with anyone but myself. But since I seem incapable of doing that – why do I always have to pick the ones that make me feel like I am worth nothing?
As I said, rationally I am aware that the cousins in Gjøvik out there are not good choices for comparison. If you insist on using them as measurement, you should at the very least be aware that it only is to enhance your own performance. Even though I know this, though, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable around people such as Miss Done It All. Why isn’t my brain and my heart communicating on this?