Comparison sucks. Jessica Riga discusses dealing with feelings of inadequacy and ways to define your own success.
Changing the world, walking red carpets, headlining Coachella performances and designer sponsorships… these things are a world away from our own. Young activists like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg are incredibly inspiring, and from afar, we watch the quick success and glamorous careers of teenage celebrities like actor Millie Bobby Brown (age 15), chart-topper Billie Eilish (age 17) and YouTuber Emma Chamberlain (age 18).
So much, so young, and sometimes so lucky; it is easy to feel disheartened about our own future. Whether you’re in the throes of full-time study or tentatively placing your foot on the first rung of the career ladder, the last thing you need is constant comparison that others out there are doing it better than you.
Closer to home… sometimes the success of a friend can leave you second-guessing your own accomplishments; their progress making you forget just how far you’ve also come. If you feel inadequate compared to the success of others — whether that’s someone younger than you who seems to be living their best life, or a mate who is kicking some remarkable career goals — it might be time to deal with your feelings of inferiority.
Psychology professor Dr Erin O’Connor from the Queensland University of Technology says inferiority can cover a whole spectrum of experiences, from “a general feeling of not being good enough or measuring up in some area of life” to “a persistent and pervasive view of yourself that you are completely inadequate in every way.”
At its worst, these feelings can be paralysing: “The impact might involve not taking up opportunities or letting self-talk interfere with your performance at work or school, or your ability to be present at home,” she says. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Observe when these feelings arise.
Erin says it’s useful to ask yourself “What’s going on? What are you typically doing when you notice these feelings? How supported do you feel? Take some time to learn about how you evaluate your own behaviour and seek opportunities to be more compassionate towards yourself.”
There are ways to feel more confident.
Dr Kerrie Buhagair, Director of Service Delivery ReachOut, explains that self-confidence and self-esteem lie at the heart of feeling inferior. “Self-confidence is when you believe in yourself and your abilities. It sounds simple but it can be a tough thing to build up!”
Kerrie’s tips on bolstering your self-confidence.
Be kind to yourself.
“A good rule of thumb is to speak to yourself in the same way that you’d speak to your mates.” Try to challenge your negative thinking as you would with a friend.
Look at what you’ve already achieved.
“Make a list of the things you’re proud of in your life and celebrate your achievements. Keeping a list to refer to in difficult moments can be a useful tool.”
“It’s important to set goals that are meaningful to you; not things you think you ‘should’ be doing. If you’re struggling to land on your goals, start off by thinking about what you don’t want to focus on.” Be clear about your own goals. “This is a great way to give yourself direction, focus and motivation, especially if you want to change direction or pursue something quite different from what your friends are doing,” she adds.
What is your definition of success?
Erin believes it’s time to stop comparing our achievements with others and — importantly — to avoid basing our idea of success on financial gain.
“We need to broaden our definitions of success; it’s not just being about our job,” she says. “Success is also how we live and who we love.”
Comparison is pointless. “Often the people we see at the top of an industry sacrifice a lot or ask their loved ones to sacrifice their own interests,” says Erin. Is that sacrifice fitting with your idea of success?
Big role models (like a hugely successful pop-star) are intimidating, but there is a different kind of role model to look for. “Positive role models can help to inspire us to achieve something big and think in new ways,” says Erin. Take some time to think about who your role models are and why. “Yeah celebrities are cool, but what about the amazing things that people in your family or community have achieved?” she continues.
Crafting our own definition of success is a very individual endeavour, but Erin believes it is key to learning what makes us happy and balancing this with the practicalities of life. “Life is messy and beautifully imperfect so do the best with what you have and where you find yourself.”
Adjust your expectations.
We’re trained to expect things quickly and on demand; from 4G, to express shipping, to Uber Eats and binge-watching seasons of a show in one sitting. We can be forgiven for thinking that success might come overnight — after all, it seems to happen for others. And if we’re not successful, we’re not moving forward, right?
Wrong. Success may well be something we want to achieve over time. “We build resilience and confidence through being exposed to a range of life experiences,” explains Dr Kerrie Buhagair. Then, we’re better equipped to handle whatever comes our way. Focus on the things that you’re learning through the experience: “I like to think about the journey, not just the destination,” she adds.
Erin adds that quick success comes with a lot of pressure to keep succeeding when you haven’t developed the richness of skills and capabilities that will come over time. “Be patient and compassionate with yourself,” Erin suggests. “Most of the best things in life take time and you and your life will change and grow in ways you never expected.”
Learning how you respond to failure, learning who you need to listen to and seek advice from, learning how you want to lead others and learning how to reflect (not ruminate). These lessons take time.
A life-long career.
Here’s a handful of women whose work is only getting better over time — age irrelevant.
The British author was 32 when, after being rejected from 12 different publishers, her first Harry Potter novel hit shelves.
At 39, the Australian comedian’s Netflix special Nanette was ironically meant to be her farewell to comedy. Due to its unprecedented success, she’s now touring America with her new show, Douglas.
Even though the Australian singer-songwriter’s hits like Adore You and I Said Hi have hit the mainstream now, the 33-year-old has been making music for almost a decade.
After being in the acting industry for most of her life, the 54-year-old’s career has only gone from strength to strength, recently becoming the first black woman to win the Triple Crown of Acting – that’s an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar.
Best known for her role as Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy, in 2018 the 48-year-old Canadian actress took it up a definite notch in Killing Eve, she became the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globes.
“There might never be an end point. Success can be making sure learning is always a key aspect of your life,” says Erin.