In our technological world, nonstop streams of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, and texts bombard us by the minute – unless you’re Amish. As a result, we non-Amish folk are exposed to an onslaught of messages reminding us we’re not good enough, not attractive enough, or not successful enough – or all of the above, like my shiftless, irresponsible nephew Axel, who wins the trifecta. Alas, we live in an increasingly superficial world.
Most people can’t live up to the impossible standards imposed by TV and online ads with perfectly proportioned people telling us how to become slimmer, earn more money, and save up to 15% on our car insurance.
My advice: STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE. You are as good as anybody else in this world (except, of course, George Clooney or Scarlett Johansson). It would also be foolhardy to compare yourself to an incredible success story like me. You might be surprised to learn that I’m a nationally sought-after expert on how to lead a happy, successful and emotionally fulfilling life. (That’s because it is a lie. I do tend to lie a lot, but in my defense, I only do this when I’m conscious.) I have written countless books on leading an effective life, including such titles as YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE – Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time, and …, um, well, okay, just that one book, actually.
Let’s look at some common areas where people yearn to keep up with, and surpass, the Joneses – or at least this Jones.
Wealth: Why is everybody obsessed with being rich? Experts like me agree that lasting happiness can’t be measured by one’s net worth. It’s about being present each day and enjoying the small pleasures in life, like a walk in a park, reading a good book, or taking a month-long Mediterranean cruise in a first-class cabin. Look at that ostentatious Maserati in your cavernous three-car garage. You’re not fooling anybody. That man toy isn’t going to bring you long-term joy. Let me take it off your hands, so you can plant a garden instead. There’s nothing more heavenly than plunging your hands into the rich earth (unless you consider driving a Maserati – that’s Heaven).
Career Success: I remember as a twenty-something always trying to impress my work colleagues. I was determined to claw my way over those co-workers to scale the corporate ladder of success. Then I became a dad and realized the true meaning of success: making sure my two toddler daughters didn’t claw their way over each other and accidentally kill their sibling.
So what if you never make it to VP, with a corner office on the 27th floor? Based on your 2.0 college GPA and your series of odd jobs arranged by your uncle, it’s amazing you landed that job at Dunkin’ Donuts. Don’t fret that you might be a disappointment to your parents – that’s a given. In my book you’re a superstar, buddy.
Physical Beauty: Stop what you’re doing and go look in the bathroom mirror. What do you see? No, I’m not talking about that zit that wasn’t there yesterday. Look at the face staring back at you. Look deep within those eyes. Even if you’re not technically “attractive” or you’re just “average looking” or even “mildly repulsive,” my point is that real beauty is on the inside.
The only people who care about your external appearance are members of the opposite sex, your own sex, potential employers, and anyone with a vowel in their name. Personally, I like you just the way you are – but I would suggest trimming your beard. You’re starting to look like a Duck Dynasty dude. And consider covering up that “I Love MY Mom” tattoo; a nice sentiment, but not a winner with the ladies.
Creative Talent: My wife is an annoyingly talented artist, having been commissioned to paint the official portraits of governors, symphony conductors, and Pentagon officials. Next to her, it would be easy for me to feel insecure about my own artistic capabilities. That’s because the most creative artwork I ever produced was a clay bear in first grade – but in hindsight it does kind of look a toaster. No wonder my teacher used it as a door stop.
Furthermore, I live on an island of exceptional people, Take Jack down the road who makes violins by hand. Or the O’Shea’s who built their own home using nothing but debris they found lying on the beach. Perhaps driftwood wasn’t the most sound choice of building materials, but you get my drift.
My point is that we all have our own creative gifts if we look hard enough. For example, scrunching up your laundered clothes rather than the traditional folding represents a free and uninhibited spirit. Or how about the innovative way you’ve let your dirty dishes stack up for the past three weeks. Very Jackson Pollock. And pungent.
Popularity: Everybody wants to be liked. It’s only human. I’ve been wanting my kids to like me since 2003. But sometimes we have to stop worrying about the opinion of others and ask ourselves, “Do I like myself?” In the end, isn’t that what really matters?
Who cares how many Facebook friends you have? (For the record, I have 5,857.) Or your number of Twitter followers (4,242). It doesn’t matter. This isn’t a competition (though good luck topping my numbers). I would rather have one close friend than 500 casual acquaintances – unless one of those acquaintances could introduce me to Scarlett Johansson, in which case, Adios, Amigo.
In the grand scheme of things, it comes down to this: Before you try to get others to love you, start by learning to love yourself. And if your life is such a mess that you simply can’t love yourself (I‘m looking at you, nephew Axel), don’t worry. Just get a dog. He’ll unconditionally love you more than your parents ever did.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021. Edited by Betsy Jones.