That feeling of believing other people have a better life than me, that they are more self-confident, know more than me, can explain themselves better, organise themselves better and have better relationships. Oh yes, that is so familiar! This self-reflective post has inspired me to some of my own navel-staring on my blog. It also talks about feelings of being an outsider because of moving school a couple of times as a teenager. Something that expat teens often have to come to terms with, too.
I read this blog post by somebody who has deleted her Facebook account after reading of the sad fates of classmates she had lost touch with and it rang a bell. In the comments, she says she prefers not to spend too much time dwelling in the past because her teenage years weren’t very happy. As a result of family break-up and changing schools, she felt an outsider with two faces. My childhood and teenage years were much happier and I enjoy looking back on them. Re-connecting with a select few from my past on Facebook has been a happy experience for me because I enjoy reminiscing. Even though there is still a disconnect because as adults, we are really acquaintances and I don’t know much more than the basic back-stories of their lives.
One thing she said in her blog really struck a note with me:
[Certain other people] “seemed like these marvelous, otherworldly creatures to me – ethereal and unreachable. I was small.
It’s a particular kind of body schema to look out at the world, seeing and admiring other humans as big and important and full of life. It took me well into my late twenties to gain perspective in that rear view mirror, and years of living alone to step into my own life and take up space.”
That feeling of believing other people have a better life than me, that they are more self-confident, know more than me, can explain themselves better, organise themselves better and have better relationships. Oh yes, that is so familiar! As a teenager, it depended on where I was and what I was doing. In some lessons, I was near the top of the class, but there were always a few people who were outstanding and so I felt in awe of them. Strangely, those were the lessons I wanted to be outstanding in myself: languages and maths. I don’t remember feeling any envy when I was in geography or chemistry lessons.
As a young child, I was fairly shy. I remember the first day of infant school when I arrived and immediately felt like an outsider because everyone else knew the alphabet song and I didn’t. The same thing when we went to the annual Thanet Press Christmas party. I felt like all the other children knew each other and my sister and I only knew each other and the sons of one of my father’s colleagues, who we only saw once a year. They probably felt the same because we always sat together during the tea party. I always felt like other children knew how to play the games and I didn’t.
In other situations I was more self-confident. The thing that changed my life was joining the Girl Guides. I only joined because a couple of my best schoolfriends went and told me about all the fun they had. Going every week to a club where I learned new things about all sorts of things and was challenged to try things I would never have done otherwise wasn’t just good as a learning experience. The longer I was there, I began to feel like I knew more than some of the others. As younger girls joined, I gradually became somebody they could look up to, just as I had looked up to the older girls when I first joined. I credit Girl Guides with every ounce of self-confidence I had by the time I left school, although passing some exams helped too.
Feeling like a small fish in a big pond
Going to university put me back as a small fish in a big pond. There were people on my course with far more life experience than me and it showed. It’s no coincidence all of the people who got firsts were mature students. Then there were all those people on campus who were world-class athletes or doing incomprehensible engineering degrees. They all had to be so much more talented or intelligent than me, didn’t they?
That old inferiority complex strikes again
This feeling of slight incompetence has followed me into adult life, but like the writer of the time travel blog, adulthood has given me a new sense of who I am. Not just that, but I have realised that my view of other people is based on what they want to show me, tinged by the fact that I expect other people to be better than me. Sometimes I’m really jealous of somebody who seems to have it all, but later on I realise that it wasn’t so perfect after all. For example, an ex-colleague whose husband had no problems with her fantastic after-work social life. Later it transpired that she was having an affair with another colleague. Or the manager who was involved in all sorts of interesting projects but who ended up having a breakdown. The online expert who was excited to announce a new collaboration only to be let down by their new partner. The seemingly infinite number of celebrities who seem to have a charmed life until they have a breakdown / turn to drink or drugs / reveal they were abused by their husband or manager / commit suicide.
We only see a fraction of other people’s lives and most people aren’t open enough to tell you everything. I have to try and remember that almost nobody thinks their life is perfect, even if they’re putting on an act and telling the world how wonderful everything is: running faster, intelligent children, great job, perfect holiday, good hair day, la la la.
So how do you get over the inferiority complex?
- Be happy with who you are. Be kind to yourself. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Even the people you admire. Don’t believe me? Read a biography.
- Play to your strengths, don’t keep on trying to get better at things that you’re doomed to fail at. You can still work on them, but don’t make them your main focus.
- Find people to collaborate with who are good at the things you’re not so good at.
- Celebrate other people’s good points. People like other people who are positive.
- Be vulnerable. Don’t pretend you’re perfect. You’re more likely to find people who will work with you, support you and not feel threatened by you.
- Ask for help. People love feeling they can help someone else. You just gave somebody else a boost in self-esteem. Learn from them.
- Do things you’re good at so you get positive feedback. Makes you feel so much better about yourself! Even if it’s only for yourself.
- Talk openly to other people about your experiences. Not just the good stuff, either. You’ll find they will open up to you and you’ll realise nobody’s perfect and nobody’s life is perfect.
- When it all goes wrong, pick yourself up and start again. Maybe with something else.
- When you can’t think of 10 bullet points, stop at nine
I’ve written before about my aversion to some social media. Besides the conspicuous consumption of time, Facebook is how I found out that my best friend from 5th grade had lost the use of both her legs and arms in a car accident. Which led me to a search where I found out that another classmate and her brother were both dead in their early 40s. It was jarring and traumatic. These faces, frozen in my mind’s eye, were young and healthy and living happy lives in some far off world. Anything beyond that failed to reach my imagination.
When I was in my teens, we moved to a house, town and school far away from where I’d grown up. It was, in reality, only about 40 miles away, but rural miles. No public transportation or extra family car or cell phone plans to keep in touch with old…
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