Years ago I completed a pharmacy degree in Adelaide and started my career as a pharmacist in retail pharmacy. Whilst this was a completely respectable job, I realised quite early on that it wasn’t suited to me as someone who thrived on career progression, dynamic environments and working within flexible conditions. Not to say that this isn’t possible as a pharmacist, but I found the conditions restrictive for me compared to other vocations, with wages not growing, daily tasks often becoming monotonous over time, and with limited growth opportunities, particularly within the retail environment.
So I embarked early on with a career change, looking online for new job opportunities every day, in other cities around Australia, determined to find something related to healthcare but beyond retail or hospital pharmacy services. Sometimes during slow shifts in the pharmacy shop I would daydream about starting a new life with a new career. It was therefore with much amazement and excitement that I managed to land a new graduate role in management consulting, in a different city (Melbourne), and started sharing my news with friends, family and colleagues around me. Interestingly, whilst my close friends and family were genuinely happy for me (albeit sad that I would be missed), I noticed that many of my colleagues would feign happiness. They congratulated me on the change, but I could see in some a wisp of envy or regret that they weren’t the ones stepping out onto a new journey.
Over the years as I’ve continued to take risks and move forward with my career, I’ve noticed again the same themes – people being outwardly happy for you, yet at the same time envious or even resentful of watching you succeed. Because seeing you succeed and progress is often a reminder of the failures or regrets that they have for not moving their own lives forward. This is often reflected in the comments they make, providing excuses for not reaching their potential “it’s too hard with a family”, “I have a mortgage,” or trying to make you question your own decisions “have you thought about how risky it is to join a startup?”. The difference between an excuse and a choice (e.g. if one was to truly choose their family over their career), is in the lack of regret with the latter. If a choice is truly right for us, we don’t have regrets and we are at peace with our choice without the need to compare ourselves to others.
When I started writing this blog, I’d hear of people looking down on me and judging me about my experiences (see blog on judgement), rather than being excited to share my journey of starting a business creating community change. The truth is, the people who are content with their own choices, are the ones who are also truly happy to see you succeed. Whilst the rest are those who continue to compare and see what others are doing, lurking in the corner to catch the first signs of failure so that they can feel validated in their own choices. Note there is a key difference between judgement/comparison and sincere concerns if you’re undertaking a risky venture – with the latter you definitely feel this coming from a place of love.
Sometimes I’ve caught myself almost having this limiting mindset – of comparing myself to others to make myself feel better in times when I’m feeling down. Such as when I found myself to be single and over 30, I’d reflect on other single friends who were even older and had started worrying about having children. I’d think, well, at least I’m not in that position, as though to validate that I was somehow better or luckier and thus should be happier with my situation. But what I realised is that comparing ourselves to others will never bring us true peace, and is an immature way of dealing with our fears and insecurities. It’s the easiest way for us to try and feel better about ourselves – by gossiping, judging and comparing, we’re using the external environment to alleviate our internal fears and insecurities. But alas, this is a never-ending cycle, because as much as there may be people less fortunate or less happy than us, there are also those much more successful; and by comparing ourselves to one group we also inadvertently compare ourselves to others, thus continuing our cycle of envy, judgement and criticism.
The difficult challenge for each of us, is to look within ourselves and find peace in our choices regardless of what our neighbours are doing.
To take action every day to live a life that makes sense for us, and accept that we’re not meant to be clones or sheep. Only then can we find the courage to forge a path unique for ourselves, as each of us are in fact destined to do.
So next time you feel someone secretly being jealous of your success, or basking in your failure, know that this is solely about their own fears, insecurities and personal failures, and in no way a reflection of you.