There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self
— Hindu Proverb
I have a nifty little app for the iPhone, Motivator, which is a collection of quotes under different feeling headings, eg, apathetic, creative, grateful, lonely, etc. This particular quote comes from the heading ‘conceited’. It captures really well the idea that it is useless and futile to compare yourself to others.
I think our society places a lot of stress on achievement these days. That can be good or bad, depending on your motive for doing so. If your goal is to be wealthy — that is, money and material possession are the ends — I think you are deluded (offence intended). The problem with the pursuit of such things is that your will never be satisfied (I promise I’ll come back to this topic).
This is exacerbated by comparing yourself to other people. There will always be someone who’s smarter, richer, better-looking and happier than you. Many (most?) people in our society are locked in the rat race, keeping up with the Joneses, [insert cliche here]. We’re looking for that prestigious university degree, that coveted internship, that next promotion, that better-paying job. Locked in a path that is shaped primarily by what society — parents (in particular Asian), school, colleagues, politicians, the media — deems as the good life, the worthwhile life.
It’s a seemingly never-ending grind, until of course it ends. And as those people lie on their death beds they articulate their regrets: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” If there’s one thing humans (especially successful ones) are good at, it’s learning from mistakes. So let their regrets be a lesson for all of us.
The proverb states that true nobility is being superior to your previous self. I don’t think this is intended to be egocentric or self-focused (“It’s all about me, me, me”). Rather, I think that being others-focused is a natural outflow of improving yourself as a human being. By that I mean not looking at others as competitors/yardsticks/enemies but as fellow humans. To be continued.