Everyone Is Better Than Me

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Do you ever look around the room, your life, the world, wearing everyone-is-better-than-me glasses?

I do, sometimes.

I can be cheerfully rearranging my silverware when a friend sends me a must-hear podcast. I glance down at my phone to see two famous names: both the interviewer and the interviewee. In an instant I’ve gone from feeling blissfully normal to knowing myself to be an utter failure.

Or I can have a lovely dinner with an old friend whose work is busier and more aligned than mine, and his joy more palpable. I end up overeating, as I often do in these situations, as if more french fries will disguise my sense of inferiority. I go to bed feeling overfed and underwhelmed with my entire life up to this point.

These are hypothetical examples, of course.

Not everyone suffers in the same way I do. Enneagram fans will recognize my particular flavor of suffering as the plight of the type 4: Envy, also known as existential inadequacy.

Others suffer in different ways. Some people are certain that deep down, they are bad (type 1), or unlovable (type 2). Others feel fundamentally worthless (type 3), or incapable (type 5), while others feel unsupported and unsafe (type 6). Some feel perpetually deprived (type 7), and there are those that feel vulnerable and out of control (type 8). If you haven’t read your flavor here yet, perhaps I forgot to mention it, or else you suffer the belief you are worth forgetting (type 9).

As for me, my most reliable flavor of pain is to feel “not enough.”

But it’s not like an almost-there not enough, or a you’ll-get-’em-next-time not enough. It’s more like the second-cousin-of-dirt not enough. And I’m not talking about nutrient rich soil. I’m talking about the stuff you wash off your car after a long dark winter. 

And as it turns out, there is no better way for me to light that particular torch of suffering than to envy someone.

Recently, I told a friend that my sense of inadequacy can feel like a black hole of death.

“What do you do,” he asked, “when that happens?” Though it sounded like he already knew the answer.

I jump in,” I said.

I used to do the usual business of resisting, often in the forms of

  • Avoiding. “mmm, french fries, nom nom nom” 
  • Arguing with it. “But look how awesome I am in all these ways! Right? Right??” or
  • Trying to prove it wrong. “That’s ok! I know what I need to accomplish or become…”

Eventually I noticed that those strategies got me exactly nowhere.

Maybe I’d have new relationships or hobbies, perhaps a new job or zip code, but the sense of personal insignificance has trailed me like a shadow.

So now, whenever I am both aware I am suffering and feeling willing to do something about it, I turn toward the scary feeling and actually feel it. I hear out the mean thoughts and say… “Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well… maybe you’re right.”

I try on the thoughts as if they’re true.

For a moment, I let it be true that I’m worthless…I mean, what is 1 divided by 8 billion, divided by however many animals and plants there are, divided by however many lifespans there have been and will be for all of eternity?

I let it be true that I’m not really up to anything all that interesting or important in the grand scheme of infinity.

I let it be possible that I don’t matter all that much; that some distracted goddess might miss my existence entirely during a lazy blink of her eye.

I let it be likely that every single thing I run around getting wound up about does not matter. At all. Not even a little bit.

All this, by the way, isn’t the same as dismissing myself or things I care about. It’s actually a way to investigate them closely to discover they are made up of nothing but emptiness and a fantastic imagination.

Everytime I meet that edge, the brink of internal despair and humiliation, it feels terrifying all over again; that part hasn’t changed. But I have learned to trust the process of diving in.

Each time I allow my awareness to plunge into the darkness and depth of those most frightening feelings, the intensity only lasts a little while.

And each time, I emerge feeling

a little more humbled,

a little less important,

a little less pressure to be somebody,

and a little more free.

I wrote an illustrated poem about that hole and all my efforts to fill it.

There is also a 12 minute exploration on feeling insignificant and worthless.