For the most part, whenever I sit down to write a post for The Simple Dollar, I try to sketch it out like a story.
Like any good story, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Usually, the story tries to show someone – usually me – overcoming something or growing in some fashion. (I also try to keep it at a reasonable length and try to use straightforward language.) These are elements of basic storytelling. Few people enjoy hearing about failure on a consistent basis – they want to hear about progress and success.
The challenge with this is that most posts end up showing a positive outcome of some kind, creating a cumulative impression that I’m someone who is overcoming every challenge thrown at me. That’s not true, of course – I mess up all the time – but to write something both compelling and useful, that basic story is the one that works.
I’m doing something wrong or a negative thing happens to me. I struggle. I figure out a way to overcome it – and share that method. I overcome it. It’s a great story, even if it’s not exactly the way life always goes.
The same thing is true when you look at the lives of others. In public and in social situations, people try to put their best foot forward.
They dress well. They (usually) behave well. They try to accentuate what they view to be the positives about themselves. They try to appear affluent.
Why? It tells a good story about themselves. People want to put forward a positive picture of themselves. It’s human nature.
So, what’s the problem with these two elements? When you take in those overly positive pictures that people present of themselves and then compare it to the true full story of your own life, you can feel underwhelmed by your own story.
The reason is obvious – you see the full picture with both positives and negatives of your own story, but you only see the positive picture from others – but it’s still understandable.
Here are some things to always keep in mind when you feel as though other people make challenging things look easy.
They’re usually cherry-picking. The positive stories people tell about their own lives – myself included – are the ones that they choose to share, and those are generally the good ones.
Generally, people aren’t going to stand around and tell you about or show you their failures.
There are hints of the full story in their actions. Someone is driving a shiny car, but they’re glued to their cell phone because of their stressful and all-encompassing job. Someone else has plenty of money in the bank, but they quietly cross the line into “cheap” on many aspects of their life. The couple seems to have the perfect relationship, but there are always cracks in the facade.
No one’s story is perfect and you can see that if you look carefully.
Success in anything requires sacrifice. The person in great physical shape sacrifices an hour each day for that physical condition. The person in great financial shape doesn’t spend much money on anything enjoyable. The person whose career is white-hot goes home and works rather than enjoying themselves.
Sacrifice is a big part of success in life. Often, we see the success but we don’t see what all they gave up to get there.
Your own story is full of the same things. You cherry-pick what you show of yourself to others. No matter how well you disguise them, hints of your mistakes always show through. The things you’ve succeeded with in your life have required personal sacrifices, but you want to show off the success, not the sacrifice.
When other people make things look easy, you’re often looking at the result of a lot of work and effort and sacrifice that you don’t see. You’re just seeing the positives without the negatives and you’re just seeing the successes without the sacrifices.
If you want what they have – if you want it to be easy for you, too – you’re going to have to do what they do, which is to put in a lot of work behind the scenes, experience a lot of failures, and make a lot of trade-offs.
When you start looking at things from that light, sometimes the thing you want isn’t so shiny after all.