21st Century Alchemy: Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes reality with another’s highlight reel

I don’t think a day goes by when we’re not comparing our lives to someone else’s. Maybe it’s a celebrity, a friend, a sibling, a boss, a colleague. Maybe you’re comparing your beauty, weight, grades, salary, material possessions, strengths, or personality traits. But we all do it, don’t we?

Awe-inspiring or envy-inducing?
Maybe it’s part of human nature: to give us context and put a value on or find meaning in who we are, why we’re here, or what we’ve done or are doing with our lives. If we’re comparing with the right attitude, it can be incredibly inspiring and motivating.

But the opposite is equally true. If we compare where we are right now, in the middle of our struggle for a better job or a better life, with what we believe someone else has already accomplished, we can become envious, jealous, or discouraged. Even if we compare ourselves to those who are worse off, while it may create compassion and empathy, it can also create arrogance, entitlement, and pride.

Posts of perfection
Social media perpetuates this issue. As we scroll through our Instagram and Facebook feeds of friends on nice holidays or travelling to exotic places, partying it up on the town and eating at top-rated restaurants, or attending events we wanted to go to but didn’t know were on, what is the feeling we’re left with?

What people rarely post is how they spent a little (or a lot) more than they could afford on a vacation that had just one day of sun. Or that the night out on the town ended up in a fight with drunks at a bar. Or the evening at the restaurant was actually paid for by work.

Lonely is the plight
I don’t think anyone truly realises the negative impact it can have on our self-esteem or our real lives. Have a look at the powerful infographic video by Shimi Cohen, ‘The Invention of Loneliness’, to get a better understanding. It describes how social media is significantly adding to our feelings of loneliness. Ironically, the more ‘connected’ we become, the more lonely we feel.

Few of us post selfies of the night we didn’t go out because we were buried under a mountain of work or answering emails late into the night after everyone else left early to enjoy those few days of summer we had last week. We don’t update our Facebook with our struggles with our weight or that all we really want to do is sit in bed (well, some of us do, but not the majority of us). Most don’t tweet that they feel like they’re going to be fired, and we never post about our arguments with friends, lovers, or family.

We only show the good stuff. But it’s not because we’re lying or hiding the bad. We all want to remember and share the good stuff. And it’s also what we want to read from our friends too.

So-called friends
Yesterday, a ‘friend’ of mine posted a photo of their ‘office’ (sitting outside a café with a fresh coffee, pastry, and sunny weather).

He wrote “Great office” and he wasn’t lying – it was clearly a great moment. What he didn’t mention was the pile of books he needed to read before writing his exam paper or that it was due in less than 36 hours. He didn’t write about the relationship issues he’s having with his girlfriend or his fear of being unemployed when he finished his degree. No-one posts that stuff.

But based on the comments, it’s not difficult to see the jealousy as people look at the pic and think: “I wish I were him.”

Antisocial media
So we all look at each other’s stuff—the tweets, the pictures, the posts, the videos, the clothes, the apartment, the kids, the partners, the jobs – fantasising about their lives and wishing we had what they have. I don’t know about you, but after scrolling through my social media feeds, I almost never think: “Wow! That was so inspiring! What a great use of my time. I’m going to go out and work even harder now!”

No, we’re constantly comparing our behind-the-scenes reality to everyone else’s highlight reel, and as a result, we’re losing sight of what we actually have: all the things we should appreciate if we stopped comparing and all the ways we are good enough as we are – even on our bad-hair days with no money and a messy apartment.

Remember that whoever you’re comparing your life to has had or still has stuff to deal with, and just because they’re not posting it, doesn’t mean they’re not deep in the middle of it.

So as you continue your job search or try to figure out your next career move, take a break from social media. It’s never going to give you that ‘good time feeling’.

Questions & Answers

Interview Question
Do you have any questions?

Why they’re asking – It doesn’t matter. What matters is that this question is ALWAYS asked and it signals that the interview is wrapping up (so take a hint and end strong). Remember, while first impressions matter and set the tone, last impressions will be remembered (in detail).

How do you answer – Never say “No.” It gives the impression you’re unprepared or uninterested. Additionally, you’ve missed your opportunity to find out information about the job, the company and the industry. Don’t ask about out-of-work perks, elements loosely connected to work like lunch/cafeteria, their impressions, their personal work history, or how to get the job (all personal and irrelevant to your interview). And don’t ask questions that could be answered through a little independent research. Ask the hiring manager for concrete examples about the job, desired qualities and challenges. Ask the HR manager about the company culture and the department. Ask senior management about the industry challenges and future projections.

Workplace Question
I recently was promoted as an interim supervisor in addition to my regular responsibilities. It seemed like a great opportunity and I was assured that by March, if I performed well, it would become permanent. At the end of March (though they said it would be the beginning), my boss extended the “trial period” by a further three months to give me more time to learn and mature, but I’ve never been given specific development tasks or training (though I’ve repeatedly asked for it). I know it would look good on a resume, but I feel like they’re stringing me along to get me to do two jobs for the price of one.

My impression isn’t that they’re exploiting you (though it’s possible), but that they don’t know how to develop their staff. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone, from whatever background, to adequately master leadership/management in a few months, especially working at it part-time without providing training opportunities or establishing specific outcomes. And though it won’t be your fault, it’s likely that your next assessment will be the same as the last one. But what are your options? Return to your old role (only), continue on, or leave. In light of your situation (frustration and lack of support from superiors), being open to new opportunities at a better organised company might be best.


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