The world is surrounded by mystery. The cosmos, galaxies, multi-verses. And within the tiny non-decrepit planet that’s the earth are equally mysterious phenomena we simply ignore. One such: Why does the kid with the highest marks live in the same neighbourhood as the kid with the lowest?
Is there a toothless fairy going around neighbourhoods looking for kids hiding away their report-cards under the pillow and thinking: well, well – what this dumb kid needs is an over-achieving companion in the neighbourhood, who announces the arrival of the report-card with glitz and glamour.
Well, looks like the fairy loved me more than the other kids. The over-achieving kid in my case didn’t live in my neighbourhood. He lived inside my house.
In a way, I complemented my brother: the scores I got on my tests were how much he lost on his. I want to say we were one team, but I found it hard to be on the same team as someone who cried because he scored only 98 in Math.
This is where I gain your sympathy and love by telling you how difficult my childhood was because everyone was comparing me with my over-achieving, but not-so-slightly corpulent brother.
Naw! I don’t even remember what anyone was saying. All I remember is, secretly, I wanted to be like my brother. There was unquestionably one person comparing him with me: Me.
Comparison receives a bad rap because it’s one of those shitty things adults do that can scar a kid for life. The real problem is it doesn’t stop at that. Like a communicable disease, it is transmitted to the kids as they set out on their own journey.
Everyone’s crapping on social media now because it’s become a crucible for comparison. Social media didn’t start the problem as much as compound and bring to surface a deeply entrenched problem.
We all want to be someone else. I wanted to be my brother, my brother wanted to be Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson wanted to be – well. In short, we all want to be cooler than our original selves.
My definition of cool back then were people who wore the school colours, khaki on the school annual day. They wore khakis because they consistently topped their class. Sure, it must suck to be wearing freaking khaki on the one day you could show-off your clothesline, but the khaki in a sea of colours is what I wanted. A sad dream looking back, but to me, it’s what felt cool.
Here’s the thing about coolness: Cool is determined by who/what everyone else thinks is cool.
We struggle with comparison because someone else controls this choice of what we think is cool. Parents, peers, relatives, the milkman, Michael Jackson. And at some point, what you once thought cool is replaced by what everyone else thinks is cool.
While most of what I believed cool crumbled, no one told me it was uncool to say stuff like, I only got 98 in Math.
As you move from the beginning to the middle, you have a free hand to choose what is cool. But, that takes a lot of courage. It’s easier to continue to let everyone else decide.
As the world goes about stamping its approval of coolness, you miss out on something important.
You go about your comparison the same way you did in the beginning. You continue to compare results (Khaki versus no Khaki) instead of the process.
Let’s log into Facebook to understand that.
It’s a chipper day. Below a stream of weird videos, you see a slew of updates about someone going to Harvard, someone else buying an Audi and someone else getting a gazillion likes for some vacuous message they put up.
All of this annoys you tremendously because you don’t seem to get any of those results. You can’t resist comparing your life against theirs and letting out a quiet sob of misery. As always, you arrive at the same conclusion: you are going to die lonely and miserable. Goodbye.
It took you like five seconds to go from feeling normal to feeling like shit. A Ferrari of insecurity.
My comparison, in the beginning, helped me because, looking back, I realize I didn’t want to be my brother as much as do what he did to become him. That’s why it’s the only one that served me.
What I really wanted was to one day be able to sit like him in one place and study. I wanted to someday, read the novels and books he read with effortless concentration. Sure, I wanted the khakis; but I wanted what it took to wear the khakis even more.
The Khaki’s were a mere result of an excruciating process of prioritizing the process that went into improving my performance in school over the elaborate process of figuring out where to hide my report card.
I got a chance to see the process: the long hours in the study, the constant practice, and dedication. And weirdly, I thought being able to do that was cool. I wasn’t after one-upping my brother. (Which if you are reading this bro, I eventually totally all-encompassingly did!!!)
During the middle, results are what we are constantly shown: the promotion, the six-pack, the Audi. It is where we compare our lives with Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or the guy who went to Harvard. It’s, ironically, where you let a vacuous status message make you feel like a dumb piece of shit.
Sure, being Elon Musk is a great result, but staring into a deep abyss and eating glass is the process.
Harvard is the result; to start preparing for it like a maniac from the time you are two is the process, however pathetic and sad.
The six-pack is the result, to say no to the Pizza and constantly feel like someone’s punching you in the stomach is the process.
Comparison is a great tool when you use it to find a way rather than take you to a destination. When it becomes the destination, it will consume you and you will have no clue where all your life went.
Because none of us will ever reach the same destination. There was and will be only one Steve Jobs. One Elon. Of course, a gazillion dumb updates. But, you and I can be curious and slightly crazy and dedicate our time to something important enough.
Comparison can make you persist and make you quit. It can inspire and discourage. It can give and take away. It’s like a set of tools. You can use it to watch, learn and build something cool or use it to agonize over how cool everything else is and bury away your toolbox in the quicksand of hopelessness.
And you realize how much time you wasted comparing only when you grow old and realize you never wanted to be any of the things in the first place.
You think I wrote all this shit for nothing? Of course, this story has a fairytale ending.
I finally got to wear Khaki’s on the school annual day – for two years in a row. Yes: #hustler, #failuretosucces #beautifulmind, #mwhahaha, #i-am-not-his-brother-HE-is-MY-brother-and-other- motivational-hashole-stuff.
Here’s the thing: the result is not what mattered. The process was. Waking up before everyone else, working on math problems during lunch, saying no to go play cricket (this still sucks). But this is what showed me what I was capable of.
The process will expose you to a better version of you. There will come a point when you will become more and more comfortable with each version of yourself without having the need to be someone else. It’s called growth. Try it.
Once I realized what I was capable of, I understood I didn’t want to be like my brother – I didn’t want to be like anyone. I only wanted to be me, continuously exploring what I was capable of.
And that is the whole point.