"She may have a great job, but that doesn't mean she's happy."
"Maybe he has a great life from the outside, but nothing is ever roses and unicorns from the inside."
"I may have troubles in my life, but at least I don't have it as bad as..."
Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Sadly, they are painstakingly familiar to me and overused in my conversations with family members and friends.
One of my biggest fears in life is failure. Fear of failure can be petrifying and it can paralyse you, which may even keep you from pursuing your dreams. Fear of failure, for me, often means pursuing Plan B without giving Plan A even a chance because I am too scared I couldn't do it.
I think that, due to our public school systems that are based on competition, standardisation and comparative rankings, most people fear failure to some extent, or have feared it at some point. And we are trained to feel this way. Schools stigmatise mistakes and give little space for a do-over. Once you've failed a test, that's it, there is no way to redo it or work your way up. Therefore, mistakes become not only stigmatised as the worst thing to happen, they also become finite. The truth, however, is that we only learn from mistakes - we even have a phrase for that. "Learn from your mistakes!" is said all over, but it is hardly ever meant. Make a mistake a school, fail. Make a mistake at work, get fired. Make a mistake in a relationship, break up.
It is commonly said we live in a "throwaway society", which predominantly relates to our behaviour as consumers. I daresay it goes much further than this. With our constant need to label, categorise and compare, as well as the inability to deal with compromise, conflict or a do-over, we squander not only precious natural resources, but human ones, too. We create people who are in such consumerist greed that feeling happy for someone else or genuinely not begrudge someone's success or happiness seem a hard-to-achieve goal.
I remember I posted a phrase I deemed genius at that point on social media a few years back saying, "It's not that I am not happy if others have success. It's just that I am happier if they don't." Many people commented how much they related to the phrase and how difficult it was for them to be happy for others, especially when they were in a tight spot themselves. I used to be the queen of comparison and jealously, and I still am to some extent, I have to admit. I didn't feel happy for pretty much ANY achievement anyone had. Not because I was a bad person, but because their success highlighted my shortcomings somewhat more and put me under higher pressure to "do something with my life", too. When my dear sister published two of her poems in an esteemed German poetry anthology a few years back, she almost didn't want to tell me for she feared I, as the "writer" of the family, would begrudge her success. And I did. I didn't see her success, I only saw my failure.
The thought that someone close to me doesn't want to share their news because they fear my reaction showed me how selfish and self-absorbed I was. You should be able to share your successes with close friends and families and be celebrated, not get cast glum looks of disapproval.
Especially when in conversations with a dear friend of mine who is also in the creative business, I noticed how often we "justified" other people's success by looking for their flaws. How often we would say things like, "Imagine how horrible your life must be if you have such an arrogant attitude, even if you come across as confident for others" or "Well, she probably has success now, but she lives alone without a boyfriend". The success of others made me feel low instead of edging me on to do better too, or be inspired to create my own success.
There are various reasons why I believe many people have problems feeling happy for others, or at least I do. One of nastier sides of jealousy is that it means losing perspective of what YOU want to do and achieve. Is it allowed to feel hurt when someone else achieves what you have been dreaming of for a long time? Of course. We are no robots. Does looking for things this person doesn't have that I have make me achieve this particular dream in any way? Definitely no.
Life can be unfair, even unjust, but one of my biggest goals for the future is to return back to what I want. If I concentrate on MY dreams, achievements and goals, it shouldn't matter what other people do. When I speak to my sisters or friends, I still often catch myself making comparisons and trying to deflate other people's success by finding what might not be perfect in their lives. Then I try to establish that their shortcomings do not make me more successful. Their failures don't establish my success.
A truly happy person, in my book, is someone who can be happy for others, for happiness is one of the few things that multiplies by hundreds if shared (like love). A truly happy person is also someone who pursues his/her dreams and focuses on them instead of looking how others are doing their thing and feeling intimidated by it. When your goal is to grow the most magnificent roses, it doesn't matter is someone makes millions by selling shoes, right? And even if someone sells millions with their beautiful flowers, it doesn't mean millions won't love yours, too.
The people I admire most in their work are those where you feel the genuine passion that lies behind their work - something that came into existence because someone was truly in their element. People who didn't let fear of failure, predispositions and expectations of others guide their work, but were urged by an inner desire to accomplish their dream.
Being happy for other people, especially those dear to me, has become much easier over the years and, interestingly, the happiness for them has inspired me for my own projects. There are enough people in this world with whom you can share your skills and, believing in that, there is no need to begrudge someone else's success - it didn't change one thing about my own success, expect to make me a bitter person who gave others the feeling they couldn't share their spotlight. And I, for my part, have decided that's not who I want to be.
Writer. Editor. Blogger. YouTuber. Freelancer. Traveller. English fanatic.