Sometimes it’s hard not to compare yourself and your current situation to someone else. I’ve struggled with comparing myself or judging myself on how I stack up to others for a long time, probably since grade school. In grade school, it was who read the most or fastest, who got the best grades and who could run the fastest, and as I grew older the criteria I used to compare
myself agaisnt others changed and evolved. The criteria gradually changed from grades (although, admittedly, those were still important up until I finally graduated) to other things like my own appearance, boyfriends (more like lack thereof on my part) and indicators of social status like clothes. For me, the comparison went both ways, sometimes I compared myself in a positive light against others, other times in a negative way. For example, I was a good student, got lots of A’s, was well behaved for the most part and I knew I got better grades than most of my peers, so when other kids would ask me how I did on a test or my report card, I typically gave a vague answer if I knew I’d recieved a better grade than the person asking. Conversely, my ears perked up when someone advertised their grade and it was better than my own and I would often wonder what I could do next time to get a better mark.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I do this. I know part of it is human nature, part of it is my perfectionist/over-thinking/self-critical ways, and also cultural. Around these parts there’s a very definite social division created by having one large, very well-paying employer. It’s clear who works at the plant and who doesn’t. Those who work at the plant have new cars/trucks, big homes, designer this and that, and so on and so forth. Even in school, this social division was obvious: there were the town kids, with parents who worked at the plant and bought them everything they asked for, and the country kids. While few of the country kids were actually poor, we just didn’t have all the flashy stuff the town kids had. After moving away for school and then moving back, this social inequality created by the sky-high plant wages is even more obvious, simply by having a better understanding of just how much things like cars and houses cost. Now instead of comparing grades with my peers I catch myself doing comparisons through a personal finance lens.
I’ll share the two recent comparisons I caught myself doing. The first, I was in the local grocery store and who didn’t pull her cart up beside mine by the deli, than a girl I went to school with all the way from playschool through to the end of high school. After high school, she married a local guy – who’s Dad got him a job at the plant, settled down into a monster home that’s worth double what I can afford, had a kid and drives around in a new SUV and still dresses to the nines with all the expensive designer labels. She also works at the plant in a low-end job, but of course, because she’s at the plant, still makes really good money. Comparing myself to her, I found myself jealous of her beautiful house, the big, shiny SUV and seemingly endless supply of money to spend on clothes, manicures, hair dye and other luxury items. Even the husband – but not her particular model – ick. My other recent comparison was against my cousin. He’s two years younger than me and bought a house last summer, which he’s currently renovating, and just bought a new car. He’s also getting married this summer too. He, of course, works at the plant. I feel like a slacker sometimes when I compare myself to him, because he’s two years younger and it seems like he’s so far ahead of me in life.
Is this linear-life mentality a product of playing the Game of Life too much when I was kid? The more I think about it, the more I realize how stupid it is to compare myself against my peers. Unlike the girl from the grocery store, I moved away for 6 years, got an undergrad, then a masters, lived in the Yukon for a summer, I’ve traveled to almost every province, visited England and Scotland and got a good job in my field, where I’m happy and challenged almost daily. I bought a new car two year ago, and I’m really close to paying it off in full. My school debt was paid off within 18 months of my graduation. I may not have a house right now, but I’m saving for a 20% down payment for one in the future. All this and I haven’t even been in the work force for two years yet! I’ve had some amazing adventures and grown so much, and I wouldn’t trade these experiences for a bigger car or a house, no matter how many bathrooms! Our lives are on very different trajectories. The more I think about, the more I realize that If we didn’t live in the same area, I really wouldn’t have anything common with the people that I compare myself to.
In terms of finances, I know how much the houses are around here, especially the big ones that the plant workers live in, and I know how much new vehicles cost and I know how easy it is to get credit, but I know that even on plant wages, some of my peers are up to their eyeballs in debt. I suspect that many of the town kids I went to school with, raised on big plant money, expect that same lifestyle they grew up with, to be their right or privilege – no matter what the cost. This is where the big difference is between me and lots of the folks around here, and that’s really why I shouldn’t compare myself to them. A lifestyle shouldn’t dictate your finances, I believe your finances should dictate your lifestyle. It seems like such a simple concept, but it’s really hard to put into practice and totally accept. While I do believe that your finances should dictate your lifestyle, it doesn’t always stop me from admiring or envying another person’s lifestyle, and that’s something that I have to acknowledge and try to change. I know that I’m not any less of a person because I don’t have the same things as other people my age (or younger). It’s important that I realize I’ve chosen to go through life at a slower, more financially responsible pace and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I don’t want to be that person with the expensive manicure but a foreclosed sign on my house. I want to be secure in my finances so I can enjoy life, including the parts that depend on money and the parts that don’t.
The next time I catch myself doing a a comparison to the Joneses, I’m going to acknowledge the comparison and use it to remind myself of my own goals. Use it to remind myself of where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten this far and how I want to continuing moving forward in a financially responsible way. Anyone else have trouble with comparing themself to someone else? How do you deal with these types of thoughts? Also, A+ if you made it through this monster of a post.
Have a good ‘un