A close friend of mine told me recently he occasionally has doubts about whether he should have gone to uni or not (by the way, he’s one of the most accomplished, driven and professional people I know – a stark contrast to most of my fellow students).
He’s not alone in having this kind of self-doubt. I’m constantly wondering about what my life may have been like had I done better in my A levels, and attended a Russell Group uni. This goes on, and on, and on. I know people who went to Oxbridge who, I’m certain, have their own insecurities about their decisions. Millionaires envy billionaires. Billionaires envy Elon Musk (we’re not sure who Elon envies).
To pace about, looking to obtain status, looking to attain ‘importance’ – I can think of nothing more ridiculous.
This kind of posturing and comparison against others is inevitable. It’s existed for as long as humans have been capable of conceptualising the idea of ‘themselves’. I bet Og the hunter gatherer felt jealous about Ugg from the tribe over by the river… “Damn, the bushes they foraged from were plentiful! Why couldn’t I just have set up camp there instead? I’m so stupid!”
The feeling is only intensified with Instagram showing you gorgeous, impossibly perfect physiques and amazing dinners with equally attractive, intelligent friends: it’s a highlight reel. You’ll drive yourself crazy if that kind of content is the only measure you have of your progress.
But, just because these feelings are inevitable doesn’t mean you should accept them. You can reason with yourself. Here’s how I fight status anxiety:
I look back at my heroes. George Orwell, one of my favourite writers, and possibly the most important and memorable literary titan of the 20th century, didn’t sit in a class at Cambridge (or indeed any university) and get taught how to write fantastic, meaningful, terrifying prose. He got out there, talking to people, conducting insightful and dogged journalism and cutting social commentary, honing his craft all the while.
Werner Herzog is a proponent of just ‘doing the thing’, and documenting the process – check out his thoughts below:
What matters more than a piece of paper from a given institution, where you were born, how you look, your race, gender or any other facet of you, is what you do. If you make good enough work, and put it out into the world consistently, those things simply don’t matter.
The only person it makes sense to compare yourself to – is yourself.
Set a goal.
Move towards it.
Look how far you’ve come – and get back to work.
Repeat (for the rest of your life).