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The comment on Facebook
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. Mr. FAF was playing video games in his study room while I was scrolling down the feeds on Facebook.
Suddenly, I saw a congratulatory comment on the Facebook page of someone I know.
My attention level soared through the roof. I ignored all the other updates and photos about traveling, engagements, weddings, and babies to focus on that particular comment.
It was a girl who went to the same high school as me. She’s a few years younger than me and is finishing up a PhD degree in a field similar to mine at a prestigious university (Ivy League). Let’s call her Sarah.
Curious, I looked up Sarah’s LinkedIn profile. Lo and behold, she’s graduating in a couple of months.
How did she get a job at Google without a degree in Computer Science or Engineering? I asked myself that question and saw the answer right on her LinkedIn profile. She went through a two-month intensive coding program.
Throughout her degree, she also focused heavily on data management and analysis just like what my doctoral program trained me. The only difference is that she’s much better at it.
I went from being impressed to being envious of her success. Dropping out of the PhD program has been the biggest failure of my life. Her Facebook status just reminded me of how much I felt like a loser throughout my four years of being a doctoral student.
According to Cambridge Dictionary, a loser is “a person who is defeated, or someone who regularly fails.” And that’s exactly what I used to consider myself: always failing.
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy for her. She deserves all the success for her hard work and determination. But deep down, I also felt sorry for myself.
She’s getting a PhD in a similar field at a prestigious university. I’m a PhD dropout. She’s working at the most coveted software company on the planet – Google. I work at a nonprofit most people haven’t even heard of.
She went though a seven-week coding program. I don’t even know the first thing about coding and have no interest in learning. Her husband also has a PhD in a computer-related field from the same prestigious university.
To sum up, I felt like the biggest loser on earth. When I compared myself to her, I felt like I was nobody. Desperate for comfort, I ran to Mr. FAF, interrupting his video game and told him about the discovery.
He told me we are different people, and that I shouldn’t think about it too much. He’s right. I haven’t even met the girl. I’m only connected to her on Facebook. She once asked me for advice on the PhD applications. In other words, we are not even friends in real life.
Yet, there I was, beating myself up about the fact that I’m not as good as her. Oh, comparison! It’s my worst enemy.
How to cope
It took me two days to recover from feeling like such a failure. And below are the steps that I took to restore normalcy.
1. Try not to stalk others on Facebook and other social media platforms
Out of curiosity, I went through her About page, photos, and anything related to her on Facebook and thought how beautiful her life was compared to mine.
That action was toxic and unnecessary. My life on Facebook is not the same as what it is in real life. There are problems and challenges I have never mentioned and will never discuss on a social media platform.
I feel more comfortable expressing myself on my blog because it’s anonymous and personal. I don’t want to embarrass Mr. FAF by discussing all of our marital problems on Facebook for the world to see.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology finds that Facebook can lead to depression with social comparison as the mediating factor.
We tend to compare ourselves to others on social media, in this case Facebook, by focusing on the positive aspects of their lives while downgrading ours. The same thing can be said about Instagram and other social media.
The best thing for me to do is to get off of Facebook and not stay obsessed with all the good things happening in her life. Competition on Facebook can get ugly as Lily at The Frugal Gene points out in “Facebook Bragging Can Be Annoying – But Could It Ruin Your Finances Too?“.
2. Focus on the positive things in our lives
I realized that when I felt envious of Sarah, I forced myself into a tunnel vision and couldn’t get out. In other words, I reduced my life and hers to one specific area: getting a PhD and a high-paying job at a prestigious company.
In that regard, I definitely haven’t achieved as much as she does. However, we are two different people at different stages in our lives.
Sometimes we tend to take for granted all the great things we already have and lament the things that we lack. It makes us perpetually miserable because no one is perfect.
By equating my value with a degree and a job title, I forgot about and fail to appreciate many wonderful things in my life: a loving family in Vietnam, a new family we’re building in America, good friends, good food, a growing personal finance blog, no debt, maxed out retirement contributions, a good husband, and a stable income.
After reminding myself of those beautiful gifts in my life, I started to feel better and gradually stopped being fixated on what I don’t have.
3. Set and pursue our own goals
Forgetting about other people’s success and focusing on our happiness is only part of the equation. The two steps above have to do mainly with our attitude and our thought process.
What really makes a difference, however, is action. Unless we take action to change and improve ourselves, things will stay the same.
The next time I go on Facebook, I might come across another update of a more successful person. I can shut down Facebook and remind myself of all the wonderful things in my life. Or I can also set a plan to move myself forward instead of falling behind or staying stagnant.
Being happy is good. But being complacent can be bad. I thought about going back to a PhD or learning how to code, neither of which I want to or can do. If I don’t want to do what it takes to get to where she is, then I shouldn’t complain.
Instead, I contemplated about my future plans and what I want to do:
— Get promoted or take on a higher-paying and more challenging job.
— Continue to build financial security (i.e. making more money, paying off the mortgage, contributing to retirement, saving for a second house).
— Grow and monetize my blog.
— Take good care of myself and my family.
As long as I make progress on my trajectory, I should be happy with what I have and can accomplish. No matter what I do or who I become, there will always someone better out there somewhere in the world.
Continuing to invest in ourselves to grow our value and explore our potential, I believe, is the key to success.
I still think about Sarah and what a great job she has done with her career. But instead of feeling envious of her success, I’ve learned to focus my energy on my own goals.
Sarah is an intelligent woman who has done exceptionally well in her career. She is and will be an inspiration for me to try harder. And I’m glad to know her, even only on Facebook.
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