If you’re as neurotic a person as I am (and, honestly, I don’t think that’s even possible), whenever you see a creative work that you really like—whether it be a movie, book, or TV show—you quickly check Wikipedia to see how old the person who created that work was when he/she made it. It’s an unofficial, totally unscientific compare and contrast—a way to measure your lot in life with those who have done much bigger and better things than you. “Spielberg was 29 when he made Jaws,” I think. “I still have more time!”
But, therein lies the rub. I don’t still have time. Or, at least in my holy unproductive, dumb little Wikipedia age-game-universe, I’m all but washed up. Today I turn 30 years old. That’s right, the big 3-0. The third decade. My life is over.
I jest of course, but no other famous person acts as symbolic harbinger of my incredible display of un-accomplishment than Orson Welles. Here’s a guy who made what is arguably the most influential and important piece of cinema of all time (that’s Citizen Kane, morons) when he was 25. 25! When I was that age, I still thought Elizabethtown was a good movie.
So, screw you Orson Welles. Screw you for obtaining “perfection” in just a quarter of century. Screw you for making me obsess over the the lack of great work that I’ve produced. *Shakes fist*
But, that’s not what this rambling blog post is about—not really. It’s about why comparisons with others are stupid…it’s about why “success”—when used as a general blanket term in the subheadings of business acumen books—is essentially meaningless. As the old cliché goes, the older we get, the wiser we become. And—adjusts suspenders—in my 30 long years I’ve determined that measuring your place in life against someone else is an unequivocal waste of time.
Now, that may seem like an obvious conclusion. Success means different things to other people? Thanks for the tip, bro! But, in our current world—this world where we can literally see pictures of everyone’s major accomplishments right in a handy, constantly updated news feed—avoiding comparative success is an impossibility. Why isn’t my car that nice? Why doesn’t the food I eat look that good?
And, so in the wake of this, I am not advocating to stop comparisons entirely. This is human. This is normal. Rather, I think we need to realize we’re comparing the wrong things. Here I am…I’m 30 and I haven’t “made it.” I am no Orson Welles. But, nevertheless, I feel like an entirely different person than I was 10 years ago—a person whom I like better. In that sense, the only true way to measure accomplishment is to measure it against yourself. Am I better now than I was before? Am I making better stuff? Am I more knowledgable? Am I nicer? Am I more understanding?
Personally, I can answer “yes” to those questions. There are still moments of existential crisis, but I’ve come to realize that for driven, passionate people, satisfaction isn’t really a “thing.” There’s always something better…there’s always something else…there’s always the next step.
*Unless of course, you’re Damien Chazelle. I mean…screw that guy…;-)