Don’t Compare Your Imagined Accomplishments With the Real Achievements of Others.

My friend and I have an old bad habit. There are several abandoned creative projects between us, and when we watch a new TV show, movie or book that resembles one of these projects, we end up comparing them. We point out all the shortcomings of the actually finished work on our unsullied ideas that were never implemented.

My professor friend, meeting with one of her students, realized that he was frying her. This student is planning on going to graduate school at Princeton, and he hinted that she may not be educated enough to teach him. Aka Ivy League stuff, after all! In fact, he hasn’t been accepted into the Ivy League yet, but he’s already worried that some professor with a mediocre pedigree might ruin his future success. (A friend of mine carefully told him where she got her doctorate, and he calmed down.)

Jenny Offill writes about a young man who joins a group of people ten years older in her novel, The Division of Assumptions . He is “alert to any sign of compromise or deadlock within us.” When he leaves, one of the adults says: “You are not allowed to compare your imaginary achievements with our real ones.”

Be careful not to think of your hopes and dreams as accomplishments. Deep down, you know that you will not be able to do everything in life that you hope for. But it’s hard to stop placing your hopes for the future on self-worth rather than on what you are actually doing. Especially when you are young, it is tempting to think that, despite all the evidence, you will be the only person who will accomplish everything you set out to do in life. This is one of the more insidious effects of a crowded to-do list or unrealistic goals that can make you look pretentious and silly.

Compare dreams to dreams, accomplishments to accomplishments. In general, spend less time comparing yourself to others. Because you never have the same view of someone else’s life as you do yours. This is such a basic mistake that it is called a fundamental attribution error . The good news is that it works both ways, and if you stop comparing your inner consciousness to the outer world of other people, you will probably be much happier. Drop your pretensions to your imaginary accomplishments – but drop your secret fears and worries as well.


Leave a Reply