The dangers of assuming that others have it easier

I used to think that there was a magic level where people started getting things handed to them, and life became easy. It’s an excuse I’ve used countless times: this thing that is hard for me is easy for that person, because they can hire people to do it/have an assistant/get that thing for free.

I assume that X is easy for them because of something that the universe isn’t giving me. All I was doing was whining. Wallowing and ruminating over how you think other people have it easier is guaranteed to make you miserable. Trust me.

Three years ago, I got an insane promotion and started working with one of my idols, and learned a hard truth: the easy level does not exist. Instead, different things become challenging.

  • “Getting money must be easy for that author—he has a book out, so he can apply for those grants.” Fact: they still has to apply for those super-competitive grants.
  • “The publishing company must have paid for those headshots, photos, and that website.” Fact: publishing companies pay for books to be published. Bloggers, entrepreneurs, and 99.99% of authors, pay for their own photos and websites.
  • “They probably have someone to do their social media.” Maybe! But hiring and managing people is a time-intensive task. When you make enough money to outsource them, you still have to find someone they entrust with content and passwords (!). You’re still entirely responsible for the content.
  • “They know people—they have connections.” There is no magic grab bag of contacts you get for reaching a certain level, and connections only get you so far. They might open the door, but who you know doesn’t matter if your work sucks. (If your work is truly great, no one cares who you know.) Resilience is always important, since everyone faces rejection. Even Paul Bloom—a Yale professor, author, public intellectual—has lamented on Twitter that at least half of his submissions to the New York Times opinion section don’t get published.
  • “They have connections.” Repeat: people will reach out and connect if they love your work. Any minute you spend schmoozing is a minute you’re not spending refining your skill.
  • “He’s a professional athlete and can train for 4 hours a day.” Have you ever seen how much work goes into getting and maintaining sponsorships?
  • “They’re a staff writer. They have a stable income.” Once you get hired by a magazine as a full-time writer, you still have to find and pitch ideas to your editor. You don’t have tenure; getting fired is always a possibility.
  • “They don’t have to look for clients—clients find them.” Once your talents get recognized, you get more responsibilities and need to manage your time better. Expectations about what you can deliver skyrocket, and so does stress.
  • “They don’t have to go to an office to deliver that presentation—they can work from home.” Okay, so now you’re responsible for the setting, lighting, audio, camera, and all of the technical details.
  • “They can hire people to do consulting/branding/PR.” I’ve shelled out lots of money for advice that was not worth any of the money. Anyone who claims to offer “objective feedback” is to be avoided, as that does not exist.
  • “They make lots of money, and can outsource that thing.” Once people think you make lots of money, they start charging you lots of money.

What’s more important is being able to figure out how to get new tasks done—without depending on anyone

Those ahead of you in any competitive field may have overcome whatever difficulty you currently face, but I find that it’s a mistake to think that they’re playing on an “easy” level. Typically, this happens when we’re narrowly focused on whatever we currently find challenging. Stewing in that sense of powerlessness actually decreases your motivation: when we think that life isn’t fair, we assume that our actions have less value.

Once you overcome your current difficulties, the stakes will become higher; the next level will contain new challenges that you can’t see from where you are—things that no one posts about, because, if we’re all honest, when was the last time you posted about your professional difficulties in a pubic setting?

Working with Chip, I was fortunate enough to jump ahead a few levels and learned that there’s always something. And because there’s always going to be some unknown and unpredictable challenge up ahead, the best kind of insurance you can have for your future is confidence in your ability to figure things out. Because eventually, you’ll run into a situation that neither Google, a friend, nor your bank balance can solve, an internal sense of resilience and belief in your ability to solve new problems is the most bulletproof advantage you can bring to life.

We “move up” to different levels because of a trait called core self-evaluation, which measures our self-esteem, believe in our ability to figure things out, and emotional stability. 1like the construct core self-evaluation for this idea, the “fundamental premises that individuals hold about themselves and their functioning in the world” that’s linked to objective career success.

No one succeeds alone, but if you’re always emailing, calling, and depending on others, you won’t have any practice solving your own problems once something truly novel comes along.

Productive and unproductive habits compound over time, and can create wildly different trajectories over the long haul. I can’t imagine anything more important than being able to quickly handle small bumps in the road, without:

  • Freaking out
  • Telling yourself a story that it wasn’t meant to be

Overcoming the “Everyone has it easier than I do” self-doubt downward spiral

  • Look at how far you’ve come! Even if it’s just “you have made progress since yesterday.” (Actually, yesterday is probably a good benchmark.)
  • Remember that everyone started at square one.
Tim Ferriss’s blog-before-it-was-a-blog. God bless the Internet Archive.

Worth noting: Ferriss wrote “Don’t miss my world-famous blog!” when a test post was gracing its first page.2Or look at Tim Ferriss/Tony Robbins/etc. first blog designs here.

Direct your attention where it it most useful

Attention really is that “one neat trick!” in life — controlling or directing your attention well is what helps prevent a lot of other problems. It’s important to not beat yourself up if you find yourself focusing on that crap, though: our attention automatically zooms in to the things that we need to fix in order to survive. Honing in on our difficulties is a feature of the brain, not a bug.

The difference is that our brains evolved in an environment where more of our problems were directly related to survival. Today when we feel criticized, threatened, or ignored, it’s not an imminent precursor to isolation and possibly death — but our stress response still acts like it.

Resilience at any levels requires us to focus on using our personal resources to get over the stuff that we want to improve or overcome. Focusing on reasons why we think others have it easier is a recipe for misery and stress because it shifts our perception of how many resources we have: when we compare our bank account to Elon Musk’s — and act like that’s the only thing in the world we need — things feel bleak.

When I’m feeling sorry for myself or angry at the world, I shift my attention to things that fill my tank.

Resilience Training That Can Change the Brain

Note how most self-care tropes are actually methods of promoting resilience:

  • Gratitude
  • Exercise
  • Social connection
  • Laugh! (Bonus points if you can laugh at yourself)

Resilience-promoting exercises are effective methods of reducing stress because they make us feel like we have more resources and fewer demands.

And this is why it’s so harmful to ruminate on reasons why we think other people have it easier: the second we start to compare to someone who we assume has more resources, our own ability to persist suddenly seems inadequate. We end up stressing ourselves out.

We never really know what other people’s lives are like behind closed doors, and focusing on how other people seem to have it easier only makes me angry. The time I spend wallowing in self-pity is time that I’m not spending doing something restorative for myself, beneficial for my dreams, or helpful for other people. Conjuring ideas about other people’s lives — and then getting angry at those ideas — guarantees that I’m wasting time and making things harder on myself in the meantime.

When I start getting angry that things seem easier for others, my default is to turn inward. What really helps me is to get out of my head entirely and try to make someone else’s day better. But being able to reach out and connect gives me strength in simply knowing that I’m not alone. Most current schools of self-help or self-improvement miss this important step: sometimes, the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to help someone else.

Did anything in this article help you? Wonderful! Mission accomplished.