As I enter into my 30’s, there is this gnawing desire to measure my success. Success in work, relationships, body image, life in general. In other words, thinking about what I am going to do with the rest of my life gives me intense anxiety.  The thoughts are so obsessive and overwhelming at times, they can become crippling to my everyday life.

I find myself comparing my work to the progressive careers of others, my relationship to other relationships I see online or in person, my body to women’s bodies I wish to mirror. While motivation can be healthy, I’ve found there is a thin line between motivation and comparison.

I recently wrote an article How deleting Instagram changed my life. Many people responded expressing similar challenges and revelations from deleting, or contemplating deleting, their Instagram pages or other social media.

One takeaway from why deleting Instagram has been healthy for me, is that I no longer have to endlessly scroll through highlight reels of other people’s lives. I no longer have to compare my not-so-successful life with their ever-so-successful life. Or do I?

There are countless articles circulating the web that directly link social media to mental health, a staggering epidemic that is taking my millennial generation by storm.  Seeing as social media has consumed our adulthood, it is no wonder why social media has been deemed a top cause. I mean honestly, how accurate is that presumption? Do we get to put all the blame on social media?

Have you ever asked or said these things to yourself, even all at once?

“What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

“What am I passionate about?”

“How can I make more money?”

“You’re not working hard enough. No sleep. No days off.”

“Look at that Forbes 30 under 30 list, how come I’m not a millionaire yet?”

“I’ll never have a job that allows me to settle down.”

“I thought this is what I wanted to do with my life, now I hate my job, what’s wrong with me?”

“What am I going to do next?”

“I need to change careers, this isn’t moving fast enough.”

“I’m broke and they’re not, what am I doing wrong?”

These are a few things that cross my mind quite often. As a result, I at times find myself unmotivated to set goals, be proactive and work. Instead, I find myself wanting to shut down just to manage the thoughts. Those thoughts become crippling to my mind, my body and creativity.  Needless to say, I begin to wallow in fear of failure, fear of being on a hamster wheel, fear of having nothing to show for the countless hours of work I’ve logged over the years.

That sounds really depressing, so I challenged myself to take a deeper look. Maybe there was something I was missing. In my social media detox, I have a lot more time to sit in those thoughts with intentionality to face them. The question that berated me was, “Are you comparing yourself to others? If so, what is it doing to you?”

I gave up Instagram! Of course I’m not comparing myself to others! Or so I thought. Here are a three crippling notions I found as a result of comparison:

  1. I will never be good enough. There is a child in all of us that is afraid to face this wound.

  2. My dream becomes scaled by someone else’s accomplishments. Maybe an unpopular opinion, but as a society, we have no REAL measure of hierarchy. As we’ve seen when the richest people in the world are on their deathbeds telling us that money did not make them happy, money and status give us a false sense of what we are really reaching for.

  3. I can’t see myself getting to where they are, so I just won’t start. Comparison breeds fear of failure, times a million. When we are afraid to fail, we are afraid to start.

From the beginning, our lives have been measured by accomplishments. In school, sports, family dynamics, our worth has been measured by how “good” we are.  The kid who gets an A is better than the kid who gets a C. The kid who takes 1st place is better than the kid who comes in last in the race on the playground.

If we were only competing against ourselves, we would always be good enough. Our dreams would be our own, and we wouldn’t be afraid to start because there would be no race to the finish line.

I can’t say deleting social media will completely get rid of comparing myself to others. I believe it is bigger than that. What I can recognize for sure is how paralyzing it is to every part of me. I understand now the battle is in my own mind.

To move through this life, we have to do the work, the real work. I don’t just mean showing up to the office every day and checking off a to do list, of course we need to do those things too. What I mean though, is the real work required to re-train the mind takes time, energy and discipline. To change habits, to change thoughts, and live in a mental space of peace and joy. Work to change your thoughts. Only then can we experience the joy of running our own race, with no real finish line.