If you truly don’t give a damn about what others think of you, congratulations! If you are so at home in your own skin that nothing causes you to seek external worth, rock on!
If, instead, you are like many of us who battle with bouts of self-doubt, read on…
Certain liberating truths, like the encapsulated in the tile of this post, need frequent reiteration. We must plant our feet repeatedly on the same foundational wisdom. Why? Because so much of the world’s messaging conspires to undermine us. The sheer load and volume of this external bullshit is staggering!
Grading systems, balancing sheets, images of what is beautiful, popular, or successful. Skin colors and sexual orientations held up as normative. Scripts for living—indoctrination under countless disguises—passed on to us as proper roadmaps by our tribes and families. Religious dogma that demands allegiance. Internet news-streams, predatory to our browsing, a bombardment of polarizing headlines. Be very afraid! It’s time to take sides! Social media casting its desirability web of likes and follows.
When we internalize even small pieces of this external coding, it can lead to fits of self-effacement. Tabula rasa becomes tabula inscripta.
Sure, benchmarks of excellence can inspire us to better our lives. What I’m talking about is when those standards create a sense of lacking that sours our enjoyment of NOW!
As I write these words, countless individuals are evaluating their lives by metrics that are ultimately superficial. I see this clearly in the life of a good friend. Listening to him with compassion helps me in my own struggles.
He’s a remarkable person—gifted with intelligence, awareness, creativity, a sense of adventure that guides him to remote places and experience. He has a devoted wife, children, and grandchildren. I often think of him as a Renaissance person.
And yet, at regular intervals, he finds his mental health unraveling. We have talked for hours about it and eventually it boils down to a single word…
He begins, like many of us, to measure himself against others—internalized notions of where he “should be” at this point in his life. He’s embarrassed to admit that some of it is tied to financial gain. At other times, it’s about how much impact his life’s work has had. On deeper levels, it reaches spiritual dimensions as he wonders why others seem more liberated.
He knows the standard advice. He knows how to make gratitude lists, enumerating the people and accomplishments that give his life value. But even in that process, he begins to contrast himself with others less fortunate. It’s the pernicious flip side; using comparison to create a sense of superiority.
Comparison. Or, to use that old-fashioned word from the Ten Commandments, covetousness in all its ugly forms, those cravings for external validation.
As I said earlier, some truths need frequent reiteration. Like this one I have distilled from the wisdom of ages. Share a version of it with your children, your students, your coworkers and neighbors. Hell, shout if from the rooftops!
You are one of a kind, a divine creation, as unique as the whorls on your fingertips. Your particular experience and history are yours alone and can lead you to the fulfillment you seek. Follow your own path! Seize your own destiny! As Emerson wisely said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Back to those talks with my friend. I do my best to help him reclaim his sacred identity and settle into the present with a thankfulness that overflows.
And often, after our talks, a sobering thought enters my mind.
I imagine us on our death beds. No matter how many people surround us in those moments, we will ultimately make that transition alone. And if our lives really do pass before our eyes, we will see clearly the absurdity of EVER wasting a precious moment in unhealthy comparison to others?
Please. Hear it again.
You? No comparison!