Brad Pitt’s abs, Jeff Goldblum’s shoes, Michael Jordan’s fadeaway jump shot.
These are images branded in men’s minds when we think of fitness, style and excelling in every possible way. These men are considered the greatest at what they do, and yet we feel it necessary to compare ourselves to them all because in some ways we aspire to be like them. We all compare ourselves not only to the people closest to us but sometimes the very best of all time. And while aspirations are good to have, we should only have one person we’re in competition with.
Competition is tricky. While it can inspire us to be better and set goals for ourselves, sometimes those goals can be relatively unrealistic and thus unattainable. Not because we’re not good enough, but because every single person is on their own trajectory with a different way of arriving to the destination.
Although, Brad Pitt does have an Oscar, and MJ does have six rings so maybe they’re a little better if we’re being honest. But then again, maybe you don’t have the same aspirations for yourself, nor should you necessarily. Who knows, maybe you’re ten times the kite flier they’ll ever be.
One terrible habit I have — there are plenty more where this came from — is to compare my success to others I look up to based on whatever age I am. So when I turned 30, I looked at my role models to see what they had completed by the time they were 30, and immediately, all my accomplishments felt deflated. The upside is it motivated me to publish something of my own, and within a year, I had my first book published. But by 31, I looked to see how successful others ahead of me were and I completely neglected the fact that I had written and published a book and instead focused in on its lack of success. So I wrote another the following year, and I was even harder on myself, despite it being vastly better than my first attempt.
So how is that a healthy way to live your life?
There will always be somebody better than you, and as humbling as it can be, it’s not a fair comparison when everybody has a different set of tools, a different upbringing and any number of variables that differentiate their situations from yours. Meanwhile, there’s a highly successful novelist out there, banging their head against the wall after comparing themselves to Stephen King. It’s just not the most productive perspective to have.
The only smart competition to be in is the one against yourself. Am I better than I was last year? What have I improved on in the last 5 years? What are some things I used to suck at that are a total breeze to me now? What am I still struggling with? Which regrets do I have, and have I made it right with them? Am I happy with the trajectory of my life? Is it moving upwards or am I backsliding?
These are the questions you should be asking yourself.
If you play intramural basketball and spend the whole game comparing yourself to MJ in the 1998 Finals, no result is going to make you happy by the end of the game, no matter how good you play. He’s Michael Jordan. There are docu-series about his legendary career. Why should you compare? If you’re in shape but your abs aren’t chiseled like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, that’s OK. Some people might think you’re nuts if they were. Sometimes I like to have fun with it and imagine that it’s all CGI or painted-on. As far as Jeff Goldblum’s style is concerned, it’s never going to happen for you, although we recommend practicing his bold confidence sometime.
You are who you are, and that’s what sets you apart. The only thing that will make it better is to improve upon the skills you’ve been working with, develop new ones and expand your horizons into new territories you never dreamt possible, focus on not only maintaining but strengthening your relationships and being a better person than you were the day before. And most importantly, love what you do and do it to the best of your ability, as often as you can.
The other major pitfall is comparing yourself and your success to that of your friends. When you accomplish something major in your life but can feel their jealousy rather than excitement, or when they give you good news and your initial reaction is all about you instead of them, that’s not friendship. That’s a mind game nobody is going to win.
We needn’t be better than our friends or make those closest to us feel less than. Having diversity in the group, as well as your family, is what makes them special in the first place. Our job is to be the very best version of ourselves and use that positive energy to lift up those around us. Again, it’s not like you’re all playing with the same set of tools and rules so there is no point in keeping score, not even against your brother or your father, no matter how much DNA you share.
As you move throughout your years, look back in the rearview just long enough to see how far you’ve come. You’ll be proud of where you’ve been and excited about where you’re heading. Don’t stay too long, keep your eyes focused on the road ahead but always keep moving in the direction that feels good — with the sun on your face and the wind on your back, propelling you towards better versions of yourself.
And maybe one day before we leave this place, we can look back and say to ourselves: I have done something.
Cover: nd3000 (Envato Elements)
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