Several months ago, my sister-in-law took over a small business in her community. She had been working there as an employee, but the business owner was making some life changes and they came to an agreement that left both of them happy. Since then, she has been working her tail off trying to bring that business to sustainable profitability – and it really looks like she’s pulling it off.
A close friend of mine owns a gorgeous parcel of land south of Des Moines. It features a beautiful flat prairie in one part which gradually leads to a hillside and then a wooded ravine. It is a wonderful place to camp and to wander and to simply retreat from the world for a while.
My oldest brother is an expert hunter with bows, rifles, and shotguns. He’s amazingly patient and has an incredibly good aim, even when he is excited by the moment. He saves the meat from his hunts for his family and also saves some of the more impressive items for mounting and decoration of a room in his home – and it’s an impressive array of items. (He primarily hunts whitetail deer, which are actually an overpopulation challenge in the area where he lives.)
Another close friend of mine has a “man cave” that is an absolute joy for me to visit. It has a two great tables with lots of chairs, a wall full of fantasy and sci-fi novels, another wall full of board games and gaming books, two televisions with video game consoles attached to them (and tons of comfortable seating), and five computer terminals for networked gaming. It’s an amazing, amazing room; if I had one, I’d spend a lot of time in there.
My other brother has the uncanny ability to seek out hidden things in the woods. He’s almost unbelievable in his ability to ferret out morel mushrooms in the spring. During the rest of the year, he’s able to find American Indian artifacts at an amazing rate, to the point that he really should contact people who study American Indian history and offer his natural expertise in finding these items. He has many display cases in his home that show off some of his most impressive finds. (Note that he doesn’t find these by raiding burial sites or anything like that; he finds them in the dirt near old hunting grounds or in gravel pits.)
I could very easily be jealous of all of those things. I could install a loft over our garage that could duplicate my friend’s “man cave.” I could work hard to show off my own business successes and try to make them seem impressive next to someone else’s business. I could brag about my own prized collections. I could throw money at various things in order to try to keep up with these folks and their possessions.
Here’s the catch, though. If I had all of those things, what would I miss?
I could have that amazing “man cave,” but I would have invested thousands upon thousands into it, extending the number of years I would have to keep working. The man cave is cool, but career-free financial independence is really more important to me.
I could have a small business in my community, but then I would have a healthy dose of stress and a lot of time that’s devoured by that business, which would take away from my family, my writing opportunities, and my other passions. The business might be great, but the flexibility of my life is really more important to me.
I could be a reasonably good hunter, though my eyes will never allow me to be a marksman. I could have an amazing collection of arrowheads and tomahawks and other artifacts. I could own a chunk of land to serve as my personal outdoor playground. Each of those things, though, would take money and time away from the other elements of my life that are more important to me.
In the end, it’s not a competition at all. I don’t “win” if I invest a ton of time and money and energy into something I don’t really want just so that I can match up to the things that other people in my life have. I might “beat” them in some fashion, but when I go home at night, I’ll realize that I’ve sacrificed the things that actually matter to me to get there.
Instead, I’ve come to realize that I am vastly happier if those people knock it out of the park when it comes to the things that they care about.
I want my sister-in-law’s business to take off like a bottle rocket. I want her to have a ton of financial success and personal success from the business. I hope that the business becomes exactly what she dreams of it becoming.
I want my friend to have many, many fun afternoons and evenings with people in his “man cave.” I hope that it brings him infinite hours of joy – and I hope that I get to be a part of them sometimes.
I want my other friend to have many days of outdoor exploration and retreat in his private little oasis. I want my brother to have incredible success as a hunter. I want my other brother to find pounds and pounds of mushrooms and countless interesting artifacts.
I do not “win” if they don’t succeed. I do not “win” if my personal success is greater than theirs by some measure.
The only way in which I “win” at life is if I do better than the only real competition I have – myself.
I “win” if my net worth trends upwards, meaning that it’s higher than it was a year ago. It doesn’t matter how it compares to my friends or my family.
I “win” if I manage to complete personal goals that matter to me. It doesn’t matter how those goals compare to anyone else in my life because my goals are not their goals and vice versa.
I “win” if I actually use, enjoy, and appreciate all of my possessions. It doesn’t matter whether or not I have something that someone else has or whether the thing I have is “better” than what they have.
I “win” if I’m closer to my personal goals this year than I was last year. It doesn’t matter how those goals or my progress compares to anyone else.
In a small way, I actually “win” if they “win,” simply because it’s a lot more fun to hang out with people who feel personally fulfilled and happy with what they’ve achieved in their own life.
Here’s the thing: once this idea gets into your head and you really wrap your mind and soul around it, the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” just goes away completely. It doesn’t exist any more. I am thrilled if someone else achieves something or has something that’s personally valuable, but I have no desire whatsoever to have it myself … unless the rare case occurs when it’s something I personally want, in which case I’m striving to do better than myself to achieve it.
Most of the people in my life seem to feel basically the same way. They are proud of their own successes, but they don’t use them as a tool to push me down or make me feel worse. Even if they do feel as though they’ve “beaten” me at some aspect of life, they don’t make it a face-to-face negative issue in any way. If I interacted with someone like that, I’d probably try to avoid future interactions.
If you’re dreading the holidays because you’ll feel bad somehow because of what your family members have done, stop. Don’t let it bother you. Instead, just focus on what you’ve improved about yourself and be glad when those other people have achieved some things that are personally important to them.
If you feel awful every time you see what great things other people have at work or in your neighborhood, stop. Don’t let it bother you. Instead, look at the abundance of great things you have in your life – your personal goals that you’ve achieved, your friends, your loved ones, your hobbies that bring you personal joy – and recognize that you have a ton of great things already, things that really matter to you. Then, be glad that other people have things in their life that make them feel happier and more fulfilled.
When you interact with someone else, it’s not a competition. The only real competition in your life is the one you have with yourself. You compete with yourself to see if you can build more financial security. You compete with yourself to curb bad habits and establish good ones. You compete with yourself to take care of all of the steps you need to achieve to reach your dreams. You compete with yourself – and no one else.
Today, when you look at the things and the achievements that people in your life have, toss any feelings of jealousy to the side and feel happy for those people. Hopefully, they have things that bring them personal joy and fulfillment.
Then get cracking. The only competition you have is yourself.