As I began thinking through my New Year's Resolutions, the bottom fell out. It began with a casual conversation with a financial advisor who told me how much money I should have saved for retirement by age 30, continued with a Fortune article on this year's fastest growing companies, and ended with me point blank asking people, "Why am I not Mark Zuckerberg?" At least being laughed at has never held me back from seeking answers to my honest questions.
I know I shouldn't compare myself to the person who publicly takes an emphatic stance for or against something that grew out of his or her own private struggle, but the truth is that while In Every Story exists to help people live their best story -- in part by celebrating the individual masterpiece each of us represents -- the fuel for it comes in part from the founder's own deep insecurity in his own story. That's me.
The ability to rationally compare helps us make good decisions. But when that ability is manipulated we make ourselves look better than others while simultaneously doing all we can to look like those we see as better than ourselves. Some people cap their potential by believing they'll never reach what others have achieved; others do it by surrounding themselves with those they are confident they'll always be better than. You get the point: If the paintings in the Louvre became human beings, chances are they each would bear some resemblance to the Mona Lisa but very few would be worth looking at.
We wake up one day to realize that the cost of acceptance looks like a stranger we never knew, a mix of people that at different points in our lives we wish we could be. And paradoxically, by sacrificing our own story to look like somebody else's, we're also sacrificing the opportunity our life uniquely has to add value to the world.
One question to ask about the comparison game is whether or not I believe life is about me. If it is I've got grounds to complain about every person who I believe has better circumstances than me, and to look down -- very quietly, of course -- on every person who I believe I am better than. Entertaining the thought that life might not be about me, here's two thoughts that helped dig me out of my New Year's Resolution jam.
The first thought is that perhaps life is more like a play. It's possible that my role isn't to play Hamlet. When the play is over I'll only receive praise from the director for playing my role as well as I can. Can you imagine me running on stage and shoving the real Hamlet out of the way at his most important line? "To be or not to be..." The director would just look down with his palm on his forehead while the audience became confused. When the play isn't about you having the greatest role, then what's it about? It's about pleasing the director, it's about working as a team to say something meaningful to an audience that's desperately yearning for it.
The second thought is that for the major religions in the world that accept that there exists utmost good and utmost evil, they might also accept that if life is like a play then the utmost evil in this world will do all it can to keep us from it. It would come and whisper in our ears during rehearsal, "If I were the director, I would make you Hamlet," or, "The director doesn't see in you what I see in you," or, "The director is worried you'll steal the show." That whisper might lure many away from the true play to another stage where they seemingly are the star. That is, until suddenly the lights cut out, the curtain closes, and they realize in devastation that it was all a hoax. The whispers sound good, they are awfully tempting, and it takes a lot of commitment to the real play to not jump ship for the chance of playing Hamlet, especially when it seems like it's been working for everybody else. Knowing there's a lot of fakes out there help you reinforce your commitment to what's true.
So what if this year each of us creates New Year's Resolutions that allow us to play our true role to the best of our ability rather than the role we think we need to play to be better than and accepted by others? My hope is that as we commit ourselves to the true play in 2014, whether we turn to the right or to the left, our ears will hear the director behind us, saying, "this is the way, walk in it." If we each did that, I can only imagine what this year could bring.