It is so easy to criticize yourself… in fact, I hear people do it regularly. While the details differ, it’s generally centred around the same theme: they’re disappointed with where they are. I’ve spoken with people who are thriving in their personal lives but are unhappy with their professional lives and I’ve spoken with people who are thriving in their professional lives but are longing for the perfect relationship or family. I’ve spoken with people who are confused about what they want and I’ve spoken with people who are feeling stuck. The reality is that we all have this vision of where we want to be, and it can feel really tough if it doesn’t align with our reality. Maybe things are taking longer than expected, or our life has gone off track entirely. Since I have these conversations so frequently, I wanted to talk to you about the role the story we tell ourselves plays in our success.
Before we get too far, let’s talk about success. Somewhere along the way, we defined what success and failure meant to us – likely influenced by those around us. Here’s a pretty surface-level example, but it helps get the point across. If you grew up knowing your parents were married, owned a home, and started a family by the age of 25, you may have assumed your life would follow a similar path. However, if your life didn’t go according to the exact plan, you may feel as though you’ve failed.
When we compare our lives to someone else and base our success on our ability to meet their milestones, we may miss out on our own milestones. When we judge ourselves if our goals take longer than expected to accomplish or if life takes a different direction altogether, we fail to appreciate how far we’ve come. When we become hyper-focused on one possible outcome, we fail to see other opportunities when they present themselves. And this all stems from the story we’re telling ourselves of what success means.
This comparison can sneak up in unexpected ways, too. Not only do we compare ourselves to others, but we also compare others to ourselves. Allow me to explain. Imagine that you graduated and immediately got a job in your field, meanwhile, one of your former classmates struggled to find any job at all – it can be easy to assume that if it came easy to you, it would come easy to others, too. Without thinking about it too much, we’re quick to say things such as, “I don’t know why they haven’t found a job yet. I found one immediately! They need to start searching harder.” This further drives home our idea that success must look a certain way. The more we look for flaws in other people’s success timelines, the more we’ll see flaws in our own (and vice-versa).
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I’d like to think of comparison as a cycle that directly shapes the story we tell ourselves and how we perceive success. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more we’ll compare others to ourselves. The more we judge ourselves, the more we judge others. This tends to happen subconsciously, so we aren’t always aware of it. When you believe something (especially on a subconscious level), you’re going to look for confirmations to affirm it. So if you believe there is this universal definition of success and that you’re a failure if you haven’t met it, your brain will look for confirmations to affirm it. You’ll become more aware of the details of your life and others.
I want to make something clear: having expectations for ourselves isn’t a bad thing. It gives us goals and desires to work towards. And seeing the accomplishments of others can act as a great source of inspiration. Things get rocky when we get so focused on trying to recreate someone else’s success that we fail to acknowledge our own accomplishments. Or, when we become so judgemental of those around us that we find ourselves looking for every flaw.
I was listening to my daily horoscope a few weeks ago (if you’re curious, I listen to Horoscope Today on Spotify), and they mentioned something that really caught my attention. They said that “not being where you want to be doesn’t mean you’ve failed, you may have thrived in ways you never would have expected.” Of course, you can be disappointed if things didn’t work out the exact way we hoped for, but don’t lose sight of all that you have. Every single person I’ve spoken with has incredible things going on in their lives, but since it doesn’t fit into this box they’ve created for themselves, they fail to see how amazing things are or what could be possible.
Let’s talk a little bit more about success. Next time you feel yourself starting to compare or judge yourself to others, think about these 4 things.
4 Things To Remember About Success
1. There is no timeline to success
Oprah was fired from her job as a news anchor in her 20s for being too emotional, which was the exact thing that led her to start one of the most successful talk shows at 32. Kerry Washington was 35 when she got her first major role on Scandal. Stan Lee got his first comic book published at 39. Martha Stewart published her first cookbook at 41. Morgan Freeman got his first major role at 50. There are countless stories like this because there is absolutely no timeline to success. Remember how we talked about you looking for confirmations to affirm whatever it is that you believe? If you believe at 25 that you aren’t successful because you don’t own a home, then you’re going to find confirmations to affirm that statement. But, if you truly believe there is no timeline to success and that it can happen at any moment, then you will look for confirmations to affirm that instead.
2. We need to be aware of the comparison
We just talked a lot about comparison, but I want to leave you with one more point on it. When you are feeling frustrated with where you are, the timeline of your own life, or how things are happening, it’s important to identify where these feelings are coming from. Has somebody put these things in your mind? Are you comparing your life to someone else’s success? Are you holding onto an idea of what you thought should happen? And are you comparing others to yourself? Comparison furthers the idea that there should be a universal path to success and isn’t exactly the nicest thing to do to yourself or others.
3. Just because success hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen
Again, our brain is going to believe what we repeatedly tell ourselves. The more we tell ourselves that it’s too late for success, the more we’ll believe it. The more we tell ourselves we’re a failure, the more we’ll believe it. This is why it is so important to remember that just because something hasn’t happened the way we expected it to yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You never know, you may be currently gaining the skills you need for when you do achieve it.
What if you didn’t need to speed up your life? What if you are exactly where you are meant to be right now? What if your mess is going to become your message? Or what if you’ve gained something far more valuable than your perceived success? The reality is that the only timeline we’ll ever know is the one we’re on now – we may think things should have gone a certain way, but there’s no way to prove that things would have been better. The only option we have is to continue to put in the necessary work, believe in ourselves, and trust that everything will be alright.