Keeping up with the Joneses is not a new thing. I imagine cave men tried to outdo each other with the size of their bonfires, and all you have to do is look at the size of medieval castles to know that this persisted for at least a few more centuries. Competitiveness is in our nature, as is our need for a lot of validation, or, as most call it, bragging.
Ancient man bragged by drawing stick figures on the side of his cave wall. We do the same thing, just with new technology. Medieval man had castles big enough to be seen from miles away; we Instagram and Twitter. We make ourselves as loud as possible on social media to make ourselves feel better. For many of us, though, social media is a way to compare ourselves to our seemingly more successful friends.
But even if you participate in this culture (and you probably do), don't worry. First of all, you're not alone in this damaging need to compare yourself to the one person from your graduating law school class that actually managed to find a job in New York City. Despite how difficult it can be to retain the same sense of self-worth when it seems that everyone you know is raking in millions and living on a beach in Thailand, there are ways to keep your spirits high and your ego intact.
For starters, remember that people tend to post only the good things that are happening in their lives. Your average Facebook user doesn't post about the 40 minutes they spent on hold with their cellphone provider (unless they're being witty), or the fact that they have no clean laundry and had to eat their ice cream with a pair of chopsticks. Rather, they're going to tell you how they just paid off their 2011 Jeep Cherokee. Also, they probably only post the good things because everybody knows that people who whine about how "they're just soooooo stressed out" or make cryptic, attention-seeking comments about how they've given up on dating are annoying and pathetic and nobody wants to be those people.
Also, everyone lies, or at least over-exaggerates. Don't believe me? Watch this Ted Talk from Pamela Meyer and have your faith in humanity shattered. Apparently, you're lied to 10-200 times a day (which is sort of a large margin, but whatever) and that's only in face-to-face conversation. Considering how many people we encounter on social media a day, we should probably multiply those numbers by 10. Or 200. Either way, it's a lot.
For instance, nobody really goes to the gym. I mean, everyone says they're going to the gym, but walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes and then buying yourself a Twix-Oreo blizzard from Dairy Queen doesn't count. More to the point, 'checking in' on Facebook or Foursquare that you're at the gym can be done from your couch whilst eating a jar of Nutella, so really, how much should we believe that little fact on our newsfeeds?
And lies aren't solely made in text. Everyone has an insanely fancy DSLR camera that can make a pretty average sunset look extraordinary. And of course we all have Instagram filters. So, ask yourself this question every time you see an artsy picture of a peaceful forest: "Could this be a picture of their back yard?" Plus, you can gloss over a lot of imperfection with a nice sepia effect.
If these siren calls of success prove too much to resist though, I'd suggest removing the object of temptation. Don't worry, I don't mean you should delete your Facebook account; if you can't be the top of the Facebook food chain, then at least be at the top of your own food chain. To accomplish this, I recommend de-friending everyone who is more successful than you, or at least hiding them from your newsfeed until your coolness surpasses theirs.
Now, should the above advice prove unhelpful, there's always passive-aggressively gossiping about said wunderkind with other less-successful types. For example, "you know the only reason he got that job is because his father is friends with the owner of the company, right?" Or, "So-and-so is slutty."
This epidemic of young 20-something's comparing themselves to others online is a legitimate thing. Psychologists are studying it and bloggers are writing articles about it because those always go viral. Perhaps this is why the 'quarter life crisis' has become such an issue amongst our generation. Instead of just comparing yourself to the 20 current friends you actually talk to, now you're comparing yourself to pretty much everyone you've ever spoken to, like that one girl from middle school who was just featured in Forbes "30 Under 30."
In all seriousness though, our generation has a lot of talent and a real capacity for innovation. Constantly seeing the success of others can be difficult. But context is everything, and while some of your friends might be doing some truly amazing things, their lives aren't perfect either. Building a career and family and community takes time; there is no age restriction to when success has been met (you might be a late bloomer). And that's the beauty of our era — we've seen enough to know that there's a lot of possibility out there, but a lot of places no one's ever been before.
Also, should you choose to share this article on Facebook, it will most definitely show your friends that you do really cool things in your spare time and sleep every night in a bed of money and confidence. #forrealyo.