Chill, We all Have Different Timelines
That's Philosophical #23
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Social comparison is so natural for human beings. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. You just had to compare yourself to another tribe to see if you are ahead or falling behind in mammoth meat.
We learn by imitating the behavior of others, it’s natural for us to look and see if we are doing it right. So we also had to compare ourselves to members of our own group.
We don’t evaluate our abilities in a vacuum. We see how relatively good or bad we are compared to people around us. I knew my English was relatively good when I was learning it. But now when I moved to Singapore, I see that I still have some things to learn.
I chose psychology as one of my subjects at school, so expect some fancy words here and there.
One of them is positive distinctiveness. We categorize people into in-groups and out-groups. And we tend to compare our group with the other just for the sake of boosting our self-esteem.
Social comparison gives us perspective and confidence boost. But we still have to be careful when we compare ourselves to other people.
I don’t want to talk about some generic advice of believing in yourself and not looking at others. I wanted to share an idea of timelines.
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What are the life timelines?
Every life has a different timeline. It is influenced by human biology, culture, society, and luck.
Two people from the same city who went to the same school can be as different as two people from different continents.
We all have our own breakthrough moments and downfalls. It is obvious that they come at different time for all people. Yet, we keep comparing ourselves to others.
There are several things we need to sort out throughout our lives to live peacefully. It’s different for everyone, but in general, the goal is to find a thing you enjoy doing and people you love (it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life without these things though). Everyone finds their favorite hobby at their own time.
I often talk about how humans like to simplify things. Systems never work for all people. Why do we have a belief that after 12 years of education, people have to know what they want to do in life? Why is it expected from children to understand and memorize everything in their curriculum exactly within these time boundaries?
Some people find what they love at 14. Some at 35. Some at 56. It’s drastically different for every person. We can’t just expect everyone to find their thing before 20.
The system only puts more pressure on those who don’t have a clue about what they love doing. It causes social comparison to people around who seem to have it all figured out.
“A flower does not think of comparing to the flower next to it. It just booms”
- Zen Shin
The downside of unlimited access
The internet made it harder. Now we have access to any person in the world. We can see a life of a guy who lives halfway around the world and looks like us. Or see a life of a genius millionaire at 22. This never-before-seen connection to people made us lift our standards significantly.
We are no longer comparing ourselves to members of our tribe, we are comparing ourselves with the 0,001% of people on Earth. But what is even scarier is that we don’t know them. It means we are comparing ourselves not to an actual person, but our perception of who they are.
You already know that no one posts everything to their Instagram accounts. A personal page is not a representation of a user, but a curated feed of posts that have the desired personality in mind.
We keep hearing about people who became successful at any age. They took that risk, they met a person, they came up with an idea, but a thing that unites all of these conditions is dumb luck.
If a person your age built a successful business, it doesn't mean they have it all figured out. And it doesn't mean you have to have everything figured either. Our timelines are different, and the only side that wants you to find something you love before a certain age is the system.
Here on That’s Philosophical, we often talk about how our natural instincts have drawbacks in the modern world, even though they helped us survive. This only reminds me of the importance of being aware of our inborn tendencies.
Remember lagom? One of its principles is to minimize social inequality. People who follow the lagom lifestyle tend to wear minimalist clothes and in general, these people are just content with what they already have. Which again, goes against the human nature of always wanting more. Where is the room for inequality if everyone is satisfied with what they have? It is not normal in Sweden to show off your wealth, it’s just not a part of their culture.
“Comparison is the thief of joy”
Maybe Sweden is an example of an effective philosophy that helps all people feel equal and included? But I’ve never lived there, so I can’t judge.
It would have been amazing if we were told from a young age to try to understand that everyone’s journey is different. We all have different values, abilities, and it all always comes down to luck.
So once again, you don’t need to have it all figured out just because people around you already did (they didn’t).
“We grew up on the same street,
You and me.
We went to the same schools,
Rode the same bus,
Had the same friends,
And even shared spaghetti
With each other's families.
And though our roots belong to
The same tree,
Our branches have grown
In different directions.
Now resembles a thousand
In a sea of a trillion
With parallel destinies
And similar dreams.
You cannot envy the branch
That grows bigger
From the same seed,
And you cannot
Blame it on the sun's direction.
But you still compare us,
As if we're still those two
Kids at the park
Slurping down slushies and
Eating ice cream.”
Thank you for reading! See you guys next week for a cup of tea.
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Nice one. I think you can stifle your own growth comparing yourself to another person. Each is on their own journey and while some tips help others, there are many ways to flourish. This is a good reminder.