As I mentioned in Part 1, many of the mind problems that plague us are based on social comparison. Thoughts of not accomplishing enough, not being rich enough, not being pretty enough, not having enough interesting experiences, FOMO (fear of missing out). They are all related to comparing ourselves with others who seemingly have more.
Unfortunately we usually compare ourselves with the wrong people. We generally compare ourselves upwards – with those who have more money, success, looks, experiences – rather than downwards – with those who have less money, success, looks, experiences.
We also tend to compare ourselves with our friends and people around us. Rarely do we compare ourselves with Bill Gates or Michael Jordan – they are simply too distant from our knowledge and experience. So how we feel about ourselves and our abilities and accomplishments is strongly related to the people we know and associate with.
For me, not being in Boulder, Colorado, makes a difference. Boulder is an A-list town. At different times during the last few decades, it has been home to many of the best athletes in the country: marathon runners, cyclists, ultra-runners, rock climbers. As a result there are also many wanna-be A-list athletes.
Apart from my early days in Boulder as a rock climber pushing the limits of hard, scary climbing, there were always people who were better, fitter, faster, and did more than I. Boulder also has lots of very smart people and is often ranked as the smartest city in the U.S. based on the number of graduates and Ph.D’s. On top of that, it’s a rich town where people come after making their money elsewhere – several of my neighbors were investment bankers who moved to Boulder after making their fortunes on Wall Street. In Boulder it was difficult to not compare myself with others, whether in accomplishments, intelligence, or wealth.
Tucson, on the other hand, is not an A-list type of town at all. There are certainly very fit people here, but there’s a very different energy to the town. These are not the serious wanna-be’s, so I don’t get caught up in the comparison rat race. Tucson feels less competitive, more low-key and relaxed. It’s easier to do or not-do here, to take action or not-take-action.
Getting older also means acceptance – at least it does if one is wise 🙂 Most real accomplishments come when one is younger, as does the drive to accomplish. As I’ve got older, I increasingly realize I’m not going to accomplish as much as I once did. I simply don’t have the drive or the desire.
Having done what I want to do
In fact I’ve done a lot of the things I want to do. I’ve done most of the hikes and and bike rides I want to do in the Tucson area. I can always think of more to do but they are out on the less important, maybe-one-day fringe. I don’t do anything as fast as others might do, whether it’s riding up a hill or completing a long hike. I ride and hike at my own pace, but I finish things and that’s what counts for me. There are a few more hikes I’d like to do in Colorado but nothing I’m going to stress over.
As well as that, Tanya and I spent several months cycling in Europe last summer. I managed to ride most of the great Tour de France climbs in the French Alps, and the great Giro d’Italia climbs in the Italian Alps. There are still more climbs to do in different parts of the world, but if I could do no more, I’d be satisfied with what I’ve done.
A key life lesson is that few people care what I’ve done anyway. People are mostly focused on themselves and their own lives and their own happiness. No one thinks I’m any better a person for having accomplished anything I might have accomplished. At best they might be slightly inspired. At worst they might be slightly resentful. But their feelings will usually relate to how my life makes them feel about their life. Basically no one cares.
Taking the longer view, one day I’ll be dead and it will all be irrelevant. No one at all will care. No one will even know who I was. Of course, this attitude comes a little more easily as I get older and closer to death.
Part 1 talked mostly about how I sometimes feel I’m not accomplishing as much as I’d like. Part 2 talked mostly about why it doesn’t matter so much to me now.
But all the above is only a partial answer as we do need projects, things to focus on. We need to find things to fill our time, things that give us feelings of satisfaction and meaning. Boredom is a terrible thing, and the Devil Makes Work for Idle Hands. So it’s not a good life plan to just give up and not pursue worthwhile goals. We need to step up and find things we want to pursue, which sometimes leads to feelings of not accomplishing very much.
I think I’ve gone full circle here.
Do I sound muddled and confused? Well, we are complex creatures with multiple, often contradictory, motivations. There’s a great book called Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite, which talks about how “the human mind consists of many specialized units designed by the process of evolution by natural selection. While these modules sometimes work together seamlessly, they don’t always, resulting in impossibly contradictory beliefs, vacillations between patience and impulsiveness, violations of our supposed moral principles, and overinflated views of ourselves.”
But I think Walt Whitman said it best in his poem, Song of Myself.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
How about you? What are your thoughts on all this?
Links and Other Clicks
Part 1 of this two part blog post.
Part 3 of this two part blog post.
Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, by Robert Kurzban
Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself.