Is everyone more successful than me?

Posted in: Applying Wisdom

Hi all,

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here. I’m not sure how much you missed the content but I apologize anyway. Some big events have been happening, not all of which rhyme with schmovid. The most significant one is that as of June 2020, I am now a dad!

As far as ancient traditions go, fatherhood is probably the oldest (and best) tradition I have ever taken part of and I look forward to sharing more about ancient wisdom with Sloane (our daughter) as she grows up.

In the meantime, my partner-in-crime, my wife, has written a post about some ancient wisdom she is currently wrestling with in her new status as a mother.




Here in my (early!)-mid 30’s, I am learning some life lessons the hard way and the experience is…humbling. 

I turned 34 last month and dropped into a cosmic obstacle course that has me confronting all my greatest weaknesses, one after the other. 

Up next: facing my stubborn need for external validation. 

Growing up, I was sure that if I had a “cool” career, I would find all the fulfillment, meaning, and satisfaction life had to offer. If I could just become a CIA agent or find my spot in the halls of power, my life would be complete. I would be seen by others as successful and would, therefore, be happy.  

Of course, ancient wisdom says otherwise. 

In Judaism, we are taught to “count our days rightly” (Psalm 90). Rather than obsess over the rat race, we should spend our time and mental energy learning, growing, improving our character and, most importantly, taking care of those around us. The Bible implores us not to worry about material gain and instead prioritize living righteously (Matthew 6:33). And Buddhist teachings reveal how a life well lived is one that focuses on relieving the suffering of others. 

As the Jewish sage Ben Zoma put it, “Who is wise? Those who learn from every person…Who is powerful? Those who conquer their impulse to evil…Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion…Who is honored? Those who honor others.”

I know all of this and yet I still find myself worshiping at the altar of traditional success. I catch myself thinking that it doesn’t matter who I am as a person if I don’t have enough impressive accomplishments to show for myself. 

It also doesn’t help that seemingly everyone I know is on the precipice of greatness. At this very moment, my friends are busy:

Advising senior members of the presidential administration

Running a department of a major nonprofit

Getting promoted at big-name consulting firms 

Serving in elected office

Building upon their investment fortunes

And so on…

Meanwhile, I am currently spending my days as a stay-at-home mom—one of society’s most underrated roles. 

For the past year and a half, I have read article after article about how mothers who left the work force to care for young children during the pandemic are “losing out,” “falling behind,” and “suffering setbacks to our wealth and career from which we will never recover.” As if lost income is the only way to measure a caregiver’s time…

And so here I am left to sit with my envy and reckon with what is most important in life. 

Up until recently, this all felt like punishment. Being forced to reassess the yardstick by which I measure myself and the life I lead is uncomfortable, and I don’t like being uncomfortable.

But over the course of several discussions with my husband, I am beginning to understand that running up against some of life’s deeper truths is a feature of my time here on earth, not a bug.

Can I recognize trap doors on the path to meaning? Can I value being a good person over the trappings of fame and notoriety? Can I count my days rightly without comparing myself to others?

For sure, I can tell that this moment in my life requires more wisdom and strength of character than I have to offer. But I like to think that is how I know I am on the right path. 

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to evolve and let go of some of my old beliefs in favor of some worthy lessons.