Other People’s Lives

Photograph by Tegwyn Fietze

On holiday recently, we were in the bush, it was notably green and lush, and there were many creeping and crawling creatures around us. We’d decided to go out, and I was in the process of putting on my sneakers when I suddenly remembered to tip them out first and have a look inside each one for scorpions, known for crawling into shoes. Satisfied, nothing was in them, I put them on and had the strangest sense of satisfaction that nothing and nobody else was in my shoes with me. This leads to a thought train through my head, and I filed it away to think about later.

I have always wanted to write about other people’s lives. It’s a theme that has gone back many years knocking around in my head. For so long that it harks right back to when I was doing my corporate gig as a personal assistant and office manager and hating every minute of it.

There was one day that I was walking out of my office, towards the local shopping centre for lunch when I looked up at a building, which is made entirely of glass on one side. Up the front of this glass structure, was a man, cleaning the windows, fitted out in climbing safety gear such as helmets and harnesses etc. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if that were my job, no stress, just clean windows, get to look in at everyone else, but nothing more mentally demanding than where to put the squidgy and cloth next. No telephones ringing with people demanding my attention, no one standing in front of me with yet another task/request to add to the growing pile, of ‘urgent’ for my attention. There I wished away my life.

The funny thing is that here I am twenty years out of corporate life, and still comparing my life to other people’s. I do ponder on what the possible fascination with other people’s lives is all about. Social media in the last twenty years has undoubtedly gone a long way to exacerbate this, and I don’t think just for me, I think for everybody.

The fleeting sense of satisfaction I had at being in my own shoes, without scorpions or anyone else, was more than just a physical comfort (and safety). At that moment, I had a glimpse at what it feels like to be entirely happy with yourself, where you are, at the moment. That feeling has stuck with me, although, I find it hard to experience again. It was a good feeling.

Just be yourself is the advice most often given to all of us. Yet, when you really think about it, it is possible the hardest thing to do. Most especially when you are comparing yourself regularly not only to the people around you, but to newsfeeds, photos of friends, and looking into what seems to be the perfect life of others when your own seems to continually lack something. This is not a pity party, again, I think that many of us feel this way.

I was talking to a friend the other day, someone who is generally on top of the world, she shared a moment with me where she showed, for a small open window of time, a more vulnerable and lost woman underneath. It was an eye-opening thing for me to witness, and it didn’t distress me at all. I realised that we all have that vulnerability lying just underneath the surface of our being.

I don’t believe that every human being walking around has a perfect life. I go back to my window washer, and I think to myself, comparing myself to him is unfair to both of us. I don’t know the circumstances of this man’s life. How many people are depending on him each day to risk his life dangling from rope washing windows? How many hours of his day is taken up with just getting to his jobs? Is he ill, does he have physical discomfort? Or, he is thrilled and content doing what he does every day, but like all of us, he has his own unique set of cares and woes, people to look after and responsibilities to maintain.

I think that this silent comparison to one another we all engage with every day, sometimes without even realising we are doing this, is also the silent killer of our joy and enthusiasm. If only I could be more like her or him. If only I had the amount of energy she has. The list goes on. I’ll bet though, that no matter how much you compare yourself to another, if you actually had to be in their shoes, swap a day with them and be in their heads, you would probably feel a lot better about yourself and your own lot in life.

I remember reading somewhere that ‘silent competition’ with anyone else is a form of self-pity. It’s a way of excusing ourselves from our own responsibilities, and it prevents us from experiencing the pure joyfulness that comes from leading our own lives and walking in our own shoes.

My mistakes are mine, as are my successes, and comparing myself to other people robs me of the satisfaction of enjoying my own achievements, and it robs me of the chance to take responsibility for my mistakes and to correct them.

It is the mirror principle in action. When we continually look to the outside source no matter who or what it is, to check how okay we are by looking into the mirror of how okay others seem to think we are, we begin to amend our lives, decisions, and to make changes that we probably should not be making.

I have so often fallen into this trap of comparing my life to someone else’s and questioned why I cannot be more like them. The answer, of course, is obvious. I am not them, and I do not walk in their shoes, or them in mine.

This is both a simple and a complex issue. While it is easy to see that other people’s lives seem more glamourous, sexy and compelling than your own, it is dumb to compare only what you know what they ‘show’ vs how they feel. You’re not comparing apples with apples in this context.

Somehow it feels to me that forging my own way, in my own unique style, with my own resourcefulness is the only way to get around this. Your main job, apart from anything that you do, whether it is the CEO of a multinational or mom to a child who needs you, is to make your primary job, yourself first.

To draw your own roadmap with your own markers for your successes along the way is an excellent place to start. For me, some days, it is merely to remain functional and make it through the day successfully, without succumbing to numbing depression or crippling anxiety. Other days, it is to write an article from start to finish because today I feel stronger than yesterday. It doesn’t matter how big or small these goals are, but having your own goals is what is essential.

Indeed admiring someone else’s work and paying a compliment to that is worthy, but don’t get hooked into wanting to be that person. Your own innate talents and traits are really what inspire others about you, and you want to be able to do this in your own unique way. People don’t want to be emulated, they want to see something fresh and new. Something that is solely your ‘thing’ and this does mean taking risks to make the success worthwhile.

Wishing away your own life by comparing yourself to others is a self-defeating line of plot. What you want to compare to is yourself. Are you meeting your own expectations of yourself? Do you even know what your personal success looks like to you?

You are a continually unfolding process, and you need to make an effort to map that process out and reach the milestones on that road, the road you’ve chosen to walk on, in your own shoes, and while you encourage others to do the same, you find that you are no longer competing with them or yourself, you are cooperating with who you are, and supporting the person you want to become, and to reach for the dreams and successes, you personally have.

So, I’ll never be that window washer, I’ll be me, the person that I am in the best possible way I can do that. It is my only hope to stop the constant comparisons and expectations I have of myself when I look to other people. I need to rock my own gig, not someone else’s and there’s an immense amount of pleasure in that thought, oh! And wearing my own shoes.

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