I have a bad habit of comparing myself to others.
Not just in a lighthearted way of seeing where I am in comparison to those around me, oh no. I have a habit of measuring my progress in numbers and achievements, stacking them in neat rows of consciousness and then eagerly taking to those same numbers and achievements of my peers to see if my numbers are better or worse.
I can't remember the first time I sought validation by glancing at a grade on a test and then subtly slipping the numbers into conversations with other students. All I know is that the habit has grown on me, less like a unique taste and more like a fungus. It invades every success, every failure. It feeds on the progress of my life and stalls me until I find out the progress of someone else's.
It's come to the point where I almost feel as though my personal progress is contingent on me doing a certain balance of better or worse than the next guy. I feel as though I am not moving forward or bettering myself unless my achievements line up, match in life's framework, paint a picture of an imperfect person doing a perfect mixture.
As I continue to be further wrapped in this futility, my progress becomes less about being alive and more about surviving.
In this time of confusion and comparison, a dear friend of mine happened to introduce me to the work of a psychologist named Jordan Peterson. The man is notable for many achievements, but in the context of this article, I am highlighting a simple string of his words. An important one.
"Don't compare yourself with other people. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday."
It is an easy enough philosophy to digest. Instead of looking to other people for validation on your work, measure what you are capable of today with what you were capable of yesterday. Because how can you measure your own progress in someone else's facts and figures? How can you expect to feel anything but stalled when you seek out the leaps and bounds of different people instead of acknowledging the monumental steps you've taken in and of yourself?
It is an easy enough philosophy to digest and a difficult one to master when you've spent as long as I have looking at the work of other people to see if there is any substance in my own. See, I'm a psychology major, myself, but I'm one of the bad ones that doesn't follow any of the mental tips and tricks I've learned help keep my brain in its healthiest state. Instead, I keep pawing after successes that make me feel like I'm worth something. Ones that make me feel like I value. Like in a sea of numbers, mine are the shiniest or some other horrendous mantra along those lines. I love feeling validation, like the work that I have done in this world means something, anything. It doesn't matter to me what, but when I couldn't muster up that validation for myself, I tricked myself into believing that if my successes could be even the tiniest bit better than the people around me, I'd be worth something to the world.
Never to myself.
But Peterson's words...they mean something different than all of the painful doubts swirling around in my head. They show me what I already knew and didn't have the motivation to believe: the only person I can compare myself to and see how far I have come is me.
I am not who I was yesterday. I am not who I was last week. I am not who I was last month or last year or last decade. I am not who I was in high school, in middle school, in elementary school, in infancy. I am not who I was then, and I am not now what I will always be. I am an ever-changing, ever-growing, ever-fluctuating, ever-temperamental, ever-continuing-onward human being. I have learned from the flaws that have stuck me in far too many jams, from the failures that run rampant on my psyche but teach the best lessons, from the successes that pushed me to continue onward. I am everything I was in the past and so, so much more. I have grown from the shy, awkward kid who couldn't say a word to another human being. I'm still shy and awkward, but I've found people who will love me for it. I am not the same frustrated and empty being who wondered about where she was going. I still don't know for sure, but I've taken steps to get there, wherever it is there may be. I am not surviving success to success; I am thriving in success and failure and life and love and progress.
I want to compare myself to me. I want to use who I was yesterday to propel me to who I will be tomorrow. I never want to forget that I have come so far and I still have so far to go. I am here. I am able. I am equipped. I am alive. I will face this world and all I have in it.
I've got everything to prove and myself to whom I can prove it.