“I don’t think human beings learn anything without desperation. Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything or creating anything. Period. If you ain’t desperate at some point, you ain’t interesting.”
I totally love and agree with this quote.
But does that mean it’s easy to embrace, even seek out, desperation?
I wax and wane through how content I feel with my struggles; sometimes I embrace them and sometimes I want to run from them like they are a pack of African Killer Bees. And just like anyone else, I struggle with bouts of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, fear, shame, and everything else that is a part of being human.
One of the things that I hate doing (yes, hate), yet find myself falling victim to regularly, is comparing. It’s hard to not feel frustration when I see others that I perceive as having less talent or work-ethic enjoying massive success. It can be disheartening to see individuals at the positive end of the bell curve, especially when you perceive their struggles to pale in comparison to yours. (This is, of course, an illogical trap, and one I don’t recommend.)
Another example of comparing is seeing people in relationships on social media. It’s hard to not feel lonely, or like some kind of social pariah, when I constantly see “happy” couples plastered all over Facebook. It seems like everyone is getting married, changing their status to “in a relationship,” or showcasing just how not lonely they are. Then you see those engagement and wedding photos that are littered with countless comments to the tune of: “You guys are adorable” and “The perfect couple” and blabla.
Listen, I’ve never ever been one to rain on someone else’s parade, but I have to say it’s hard to see stuff like this and not think about my own life. While everyone else is happily finding the loves of their life, here I am having trouble meeting just one quality female I “click” with that isn’t either married or in a serious relationship (which, as the irony of the universe goes, I’ve met plenty of each of those).
So ya…. that’s annoying. I call it the comparison trap.
I enjoy being happy for people. I think everyone deserves happiness and success, so when I feel the negative thoughts of comparison seep into my head, I don’t like it one bit. Unfortunately, the more I find myself on social media, the more these thoughts creep in—and is why I limit my time there.
When I notice myself falling into the comparison trap, I try to ignite the rational, stoic side of my brain. It usually chimes in with a bit of wisdom about how struggles are necessary in life (like what I’m going through now) and how they help you appreciate what you have and will have. When my logical brain kicks in to remind my reptilian brain to stop being an idiot, I thank him for his wisdom while trying to do the best I can to quell the pangs of desire that burn deep.
Ahhhh… such is life… tragically depressing yet wonderfully beautiful at the same time.
So, I have formed a couple philosophical “answers” to the comparison trap.
First, my previous point about appreciation is the most important. If one does not struggle through times of famine, he or she will not appreciate times when food is abundant. Do you think individuals who lived through the depression would become overweight—like most Americans—if they lived with an overabundant food supply the way we do? I think not. The reason being they know struggle, appreciate it even, and would not fall victim to gluttony as a result. They would be balanced by the opposing forces of feast and famine.
However, if we look to the average American, whom has likely never had to struggle for food, we find sick people. The only thing that Americans know is how much, how fast and how cheap. Just imagine what would happen to the average American if he or she had to go a few months living on only a couple hundred calories a day? Might be a great way to “balance” them out, don’t ya think?
The second “answer” to the comparison trap lies in the fact that we are all on different timelines in life. If you are jealous of someone who has more than you when they have been working the last ten years while you’ve only been working a few years, then you are severely missing the point.
Without struggle, getting something has no value because you didn’t have to earn it. It has no value. Things that are scarce are hard to get and thus require a great deal of effort to obtain. That is why they have value to you and the world. If water was scarce, it would be the most expensive and sought after item in the world, the way gold and diamonds are. In fact, water where I live is free and abundant, and thus, has no monetary value, but if I were to go to remote parts of Central American of Africa, I will find people that have to spend the majority of their money on clean water. You better believe they appreciate every drop.
If everyone had success, success wouldn’t mean anything. It would be like water in the United States: something we all have and take for granted. There are plenty of examples of this concept in life; it is a fact of human existence. When you understand the duality of all things in life, and how necessary the hard part is for appreciating the good, and vice versus, you might think it strange when you hear someone complain about how “hard” something is.
“Dude! It’s hard is the only reason you value it, and if you didn’t value it, it wouldn’t be hard!”
…is what I would normally say.
Life is hard, sure, but it’s also magical and beautiful. Take away the hard and it’s bland, boring, and like some black and white movie.
Success is hard, sure, but it brings about great rewards. Take away the hardness and it’s just another thing, like the water you use to take that 30-minute shower.
Relationships are hard, sure, but they are also great. Hardness keeps your relationship alive while giving it the ability to thrive.
And so on.
Did you know that the average “overnight success” is 10 years in the making? Just because you didn’t hear about them for the last 9.5 years does not mean that they got where they are fast. Other than the few extreme outliers that might shortcut their way to success, nearly all self-made success stories are just that: self-made.
Struggling with Struggles
I’m good at being aware of myself and my personal struggles. I try to ask myself hard questions on a regular basis. I’m usually aware of myself when acting emotionally, and I do my best to figure out why so I can correct it. Of course, none of this came easy, and it’s still a major work in progress. I’ve dealt with some shit in my life, and it’s all been a part of the process that has made me better.
A sadly ironic thing about life: Our worst situations contain our most potential for becoming a better person.
Reading and writing have been the most important tools for helping me get through my struggles in life. They have allowed me to understand, cope, accept, and work on improving and learning to become a better person. For every traumatic experience in my life, I had writing and reading as my companions for getting through—and without, I’m not sure what I would’ve done. (Close friends come next on the list.)
I’ve recently started a journal. I love it. I write in it each morning before I write anything else. It’s very therapeutic to write something that other people won’t read. You can be unfiltered and unrestrained. As a writer, you are always gauging what people might think of what you write, which can often produce self-censored writing that just isn’t as powerful. In this piece, for example, I could easily edit out a few parts so I didn’t feel as ‘vulnerable’ with my words. I’m not going to that because I think it would be a disservice to us both.
What about you? Are you being honest with yourself? Or are you living in a world of perpetual distraction?
- Are you aware of the things you want, and the “why” to what you do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis?
- Are you in one of these “happy” relationships that everyone deems so “normal” and “expected” yet you still feel a pit in your stomach? Do you know what that pit is, and what it’s trying to tell you?
- Are you trying to believe in something because your parents, friends and family believe in it, yet you struggle?
- Do you feel “lost” or “lonely” even when standing in a crowded room of people that care about you?
- Do you get sick of the grind of life, and feel like you are doing a lot while going no where?
- Are you comparing your life to the lives of people you see on social media? Is this sapping your happiness and sucking you into wanting more, better and different?
I encourage you to explore these questions and many more. The right questions and answers are different for us all, but the importance of asking and answering them is the same: absolutely necessary.
My favorite kind of writing is writing that begs you to ask questions, that spurs you to exploring your inner world. So much of writing nowadays comes in a neat little box with a ribbon. It catches your attention with a clever headline and a few opening sentences, reinforces a point or two in the body text, and then closes with an easy and clear, often step-by-step, lesson of what you should do next. You get the feeling that you “accomplished” something by reading it and that your work is done. To that I say, *$#*$#**$.
That kind of writing doesn’t do jack for you. You need to ask yourself hard questions. You need to be manipulated, cajoled, even guilted, into doing something more.
I hope that this piece will help you with some of that.