Today, I turn 29. Depending on whom I ask, I’m ancient or just getting started. Someone may find me remarkably accomplished for my age, while another person will point out that I’m behind on starting a family. Everything is relative.
Out on a run a few years ago, I realized that it’s pointless to judge someone else’s speed, as they may appear slow because they’re recovering from a sprint or vice versa. It’s nearly impossible to gauge whether someone’s in beast mode or recovery. Perhaps the slow runner is inching along because she’s coming back from an injury, or maybe she was just struck with a brilliant poem that she’s trying to remember.
Not to mention the futility of assessing the infinite dimensionalities of one’s being and then trying to compare someone’s traits against my own?! The dynamic matrix calculations are just too much. Similarly, I realized that comparing myself to others is fundamentally a destructive activity, as I will either put them down or myself down. In the act of comparison, someone always has to lose (have you ever thought “wow, we are equally pretty?”). And what’s the point of that?
Our rampant tendency to compare is not our fault; scanning environments, running scenarios, and benchmarking is a highly conserved evolutionary process that was essential to our survival for thousands of years. Now, for those of us who are fortunate to not live in immediate physical danger, this constant scanning and planning creates an evolutionary mismatch that can manifest in anxiety and demeaning self-judgment. Thus, I’ve resolved to compare myself only against myself, as the cost/benefit of comparing myself against others isn’t good for anyone. And everything is relative, anyway.
I’ve made a few other resolutions to guide me in my 29th year:
Design my life and days such that I have time for what’s important. To be specific: I’m resolving to take breaks during the workday, eat outside as much as possible, answer friends’ emails within 3 days, call my grandmother at least once a week, schedule writing time, and get into bed earlier than I’d like to admit.
Be present and enjoy the ride. The minutes before my co-instructor and I stepped into an overflowing classroom of eager students vying for spots in one of the most popular engineering courses at Yale, I sat alone in his office, away from my phone, and just savored the anticipatory feeling of being an academic rockstar.
Spread the love by complimenting and thanking people generously. One of my favorite things about love and admiration is that they are not zero sum; the more I give to others, the more I get back. This year, I am going to err on the side of praise and gratitude.