Geeks Vs Loneliness: measuring yourself against other people

If you're comparing your life to that of others, you may just be selling yourself short...

Welcome to our regular Geeks Vs Loneliness spot, where we just try and have a natter about things that may be affecting you, or the people around you. As always, we can’t offer magic solutions to anything, but hopefully, there’s a tip or two in here that may help. And do feel free to join us in the comments below.

This week, I want to talk about the human trait of comparing ourselves to other people.

When I was at school, there were two brothers in the years above me. For the purposes of this, I’m calling them James and Peter, although those names have been changed.

I knew Peter, the younger brother, a little. A bright, friendly person, in a school that could have used a few more of them, in truth. James I didn’t know. He was academically brilliant, predicted to sweep top marks in his exams, and had got into Cambridge, if memory serves. He’d always naturally taken to study, and many career paths of his choosing were ahead of him.

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Peter, as a consequence, bore the brunt of being James’ brother. People couldn’t help but compare the two, even though they were two very different people, with very different skills, very different passions, and very different personalities.

We traipsed into school for an assembly after one school holiday, to be told the shocking news that Peter had died. Only a few weeks later did I learn that he’d taken his own life. The strong implication – I’m choosing these words as carefully as I can – was that he struggled to live in the shadow of such a successful brother.

I didn’t know Peter much, but that did and does break my heart.

From school upwards, society encourages us to compare ourselves to each other. Schools have league tables, where grades are seemingly everything. Tests measure our achievement, scaled against everyone else’s. And as we get older, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t cast an eye over to someone successful, or rich, or who we deemed to have an idyllic life. To measure ourselves against them.

But I’d like to call bullshit.

Two things. Firstly, we’re all supposed to be different. Human beings are not photocopies. Some of us are good at some things, some of us aren’t. There’s no harm in admitting that. But also, if you’re looking to value your life/worth/happiness by directly comparing yourself to somebody else, the game is rigged from the start. None of us have any chance of coming out well. It’s an unfair way to measure a life, and – if I may be so bold – you deserve better.

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Secondly, none of us really has all the facts about somebody else’s life. If someone seems successful, and content, and has a big house and perfect family, that’s wonderful. But also: it’s a two dimensional snapshot of their life you get at best. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. You don’t know if they’re truly happy. You don’t know what they’re battling. Just because people are very good at putting up a front, it doesn’t mean that they’re living out a life of paradise.

As hard as it can sometimes be, treasure yourself. Give yourself a bit of credit. Be a little bit more on your own side. At the very least, try and give yourself a fair crack of the proverbial whip.

You take care of yourselves. And thanks, as always, for reading.


PS I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the British Media Awards, who gave Geeks Vs Loneliness a silver prize this week. More importantly, I wanted to say a big thank to all of you who have supported what we’ve been trying to do with GvL. This article marks the first birthday of it (we started here), with over 50 pieces penned to date, and lots more on the way. So thank YOU. You are the best readers on planet Earth, and we never – as twee as it may sound – forget that.