The other day I made the mistake that almost all of us make in our first hour of consciousness – I checked my Facebook account and scanned the headlines. Consequently I learned the following: a friend of mine is leaving today for a two-month vacation to Singapore; the United States has a list of 59 terror groups; one-third of 55-year-old Americans have exactly $0 saved for retirement; someone I barely know but am somehow connected to just got married in a Polish castle; there are at least 10 vacation spots I should visit before I die, and odds are I’ll miss 8 or 9 of them; some teacher somewhere started a multi-million dollar business with an initial investment of only $10; and each and every one of the Oscar nominees got a $160,000 gift bag filled with everything from a box of fancy apples to a three-night stay at a Tuscan villa. By comparison, today I plan on walking my dog and then sitting down to my computer to write this article and a few other things. I might make it to the gym, and tonight I’m going to spend a couple hours painting the hallway that goes down into my basement. I thought about posting my daily plan on my Facebook page, but then I started crying and couldn’t see well enough to type effectively.
Every one of us is now comparing ourselves against a truly impossible amount of competition. Every day, over 98 years of video are uploaded to YouTube alone, and it’s a dead certainty that some of it will make you feel as though your own life isn’t all that impressive. Recently I read that even Oscar winners are often struggling to find work two years later, as an endless crop of new actors and actresses make it incrementally more and more difficult to land parts. Every day, miracles and disasters occur with clockwork regularity all around the world, and news organizations tend to report the latter five times more often than the former. If you truly believed every threat you’re made aware of during any given month, you’d eventually be too scared to leave your house – although a sinkhole might open up beneath your bedroom anytime, you know. If it has ever felt more difficult now to be happy with what you have, that’s because it is. It’s one thing to come in last in a two-person race; it’s quite another to come in last at the New York City Marathon.
When I was working as a stand-up comedian, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, “Don’t look sideways.” In comedy (as with everything else), there are always people ahead of you. Sometimes you’re dead certain that you’re better than they are, but still they’ve made it to TV and you haven’t. And if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to make everyone else’s success into an indication of your comparative failure. One way to avoid that mentality is to realize that everyone is following their own path, and that no one else’s life has any real bearing on what you’re able to accomplish for yourself. The only problem is that’s not entirely true – after all, there are a finite number of comedy clubs and television acting opportunities. So the easier way to avoid looking sideway is to simply not pay attention. This is admittedly anecdotal, but I always found it to be true that the comedians who talked the most about what other comedians were doing tended to be the angriest and most disillusioned people in the business. The happiest people were the ones who focused on their own careers, even if they weren’t exactly where they wanted to be just yet.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to what’s going on around you. It is to say, however, that you shouldn’t pay attention to everything. Unfortunately, the world we’ve built is demanding that you do.
So you have two choices. You can train yourself to be unaffected by the successes and misery of seven billion other people, or you can pay less attention to it. One approach requires an enormous amount of willpower and a rock-solid sense of your own self-worth; and the other requires you to occasionally choose to take a nap instead of checking your social media accounts. I know which one I’m doing. I love naps.
Just food for thought. Sometimes ignorance really is a strategy.