Separating Your Goals and Choices from Other People

Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.
– Nido Qubein

I spent the first twenty five years of my life mostly pushing forward on goals created by other people.

When I was in school, I was told that grades were the only thing that mattered. Thus, I treated school as a rat race for grades rather than an opportunity to learn. So rather than studying and reading and learning for the joy of it, it was all just a slog for grades.

When I went to college, I turned my back on what I really wanted to major in (I wanted to get a B.A. in English lit and then try to get into the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop) and instead chose a major that was much more financially lucrative because others had told me that I needed to major in something lucrative instead of something I was passionate about. So I chose the most interesting (to me) of reasonably lucrative majors.

I chose a career path that certainly paid well (what other people wanted) and allowed me to buy lots of stuff to impress others, but left me without big pieces of the life I wanted.

I spent money because my friends spent money. I bought lots of gadgets because my friends bought lots of gadgets. I spent tons of money on video games and trading cards because that’s what my friends did.

Almost no significant decision in the first twenty five years of my life was made with respect to what I wanted to achieve in my life.

I compared my achievements with those of other people. I didn’t compare my achievements with my own goals.

Looking back, this was the single biggest lesson I learned from my financial turnaround. I spent too much time using what other people were doing as a measurement for how I was doing.

If one of my friends had a new gadget, then I believed that diminished me in some fashion. At the same time, if I had a new gadget that others didn’t have, my worth was higher than theirs.

If someone I knew had a great job, I thought that made my job look worse by comparison. At the same time, if I interacted with someone with a worse job, my job seemed much better.

If someone went to a great restaurant, then the meal I had last night was somehow made worse. At the same time, if I ate at a great restaurant, it was somehow made better if others didn’t do the same.

Friendships. Golf clubs. The latest films. Automobiles. The list went on and on. If my achievements and possessions topped someone else, that validated me. If they didn’t top someone else, then I felt like less of a person.

Every single bit of that was nonsense. Even worse, it was nonsense that paralyzed me and kept me from thinking about what I wanted out of life and how I could get there.

Judged compared to others, I was fairly successful. Judged compared to what I really wanted for my life in my own heart, I was pretty much a failure.

Here’s the thing, though. Most people don’t really care about most of this stuff. You might be able to use something like this to get your foot in the door, but once your foot is in, it really doesn’t matter. People make up their mind about you based on you, not the stuff you have or the restaurant you ate at.

Reset your goals. Recognize that the people around you – at least, the ones who truly matter – don’t care about what you have and what you’ve done beyond the fact that it brings you happiness and satisfaction. Don’t waste your time buying things or doing things to impress others because that sense of being “impressed” is incredibly fleeting and doesn’t matter a whit in the long run.

What does matter is that you wake up each morning with things on your plate that you want to accomplish.

The more time you spend figuring out what big things you want to accomplish in life and taking the steps you need to take to get there, the easier it is to wake up each morning ready to take on what life has to offer.

It’s easier to stay out of debt and reach financial independence because you’re not wasting your money on stuff just to impress others.

It’s easier to simply switch careers to something personally valuable to you that matches your skills because your job isn’t just a rat race to whatever job pays you “top dollar,” because you don’t need “top dollar” because you’re not spending all your money on stuff to impress others.

It’s easier to find the time to do the stuff you want to do because you’re not wasting your time doing all the “trendy” stuff you’re doing to impress your friends. There’s no reason to eat at that expensive restaurant or to squeeze in another golf outing unless it brings a lot of personal value to you.

It’s your life. Figure out what you want and chase that. Everyone that truly matters and truly cares for you will happily join in the chorus.