Are things really easier for other people?

A huge theme in my book is how easy it is for people to give up prematurely. Not even trying something, or giving up, is probably the easiest thing in the world to do. When we get an idea of how much or what we have to accomplish to get to where we want to go, the things that stick out are what’s hard for us. The fact that bad information is stronger that good information makes sense from a survival standpoint – one mistake and we’re out of the gene pool – but focusing on this is a recipe for all kinds of mental health woes.

Years ago, when I wanted to be a science writer, I was insanely jealous of Jonah Lehrer. I figured things were easy for him because he went to an Ivy League school and had great mentors. His book was well-reviewed, he had these great assignments, and he blogged for The New Yorker and Wired. But I didn’t see the things that were hard for him. Other people don’t advertise or blog about the things that are hard for them.

It’s the classic idea that you’re comparing your insides to other people’s outsides, also called the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry.

What I got from your book, and this conversation, is that luck really doesn’t exist. It’s a made-up construct to explain people who are just trying harder and paying closer attention to how the lazy brains around them are making decisions.
In a way, sure. It’s really tempting to think everything that happens is out of my control. Because that absolves us of the hard work. And it’s easy to think that because we don’t see it.

Just thinking “this thing I want to accomplish is easier for other people!” and that’s enough to decrease your motivation—and in the end, it’s all about motivation: how motivated you are to keep going, try that thing, get better, reach out to people, maintain social connections, and focus on actions that will yield larger rewards in the more distant future.

When we don’t think that our actions will make a difference, we’re less likely to act at all, which is one reason why it’s more adaptive to believe that you can control your future.

Thinking that things are easier for other people can make our desired future feel impossibly far away, decreasing our motivation. Are things easier for other people? Yes, they are. But focusing on how you think life is unfair will merely drive you crazy.

But the flipside is that plenty of things in life are easier for you, too — you just don’t see them. People don’t see their own good luck because they simply don’t have to spend time or energy overcoming certain barriers. Is it a privilege to be a white male? You don’t think it is when you’re fixated on the hardships in your own life.

Do I feel privileged? Not on a daily basis. But the more people I speak with who have different backgrounds and daily experiences, and the more research I read about how different other people’s daily experiences are, the more I understand what things are easier for me. Unless I exercised intellectual humility and a genuine interest in other people’s perspectives, I’d mistakenly think that other people’s experiences are just like mine—only with minor tweaks. The fact that some things never even occur to it never occurs to us that some things are even obstacles is what makes them easy.

It’s easy to dismiss other people’s concerns as being “in their head” because we lack their perspective and can’t appreciate how much other factors really are obstacles to other people.

tl;dr Yes, other things are easier for some people. But fixating on that will drive you crazy and decrease your motivation to do awesome things.