It’s no secret that comparison culture is at an all-time high. Thanks to social media algorithms, our frame of reference for comparing ourselves is no longer limited to our immediate network; it extends to every person on earth with an internet connection. As you can imagine, our dissatisfaction with ourselves is pretty high these days.
But when it comes to our perpetual dissatisfaction, there’s something deeper happening.
In this hyper-digitized reality, it has never been easier to be seen or heard. Anyone, even those of us living in relative obscurity, can amplify their voice in a way that the whole world can see and validate. The result? Regular, everyday people are met with an entirely unprecedented definition of success. You, too, can change the world.
This is the next mutation of perfectionism. We don’t just want to be perfect anymore. We want to be extraordinary.
And here’s the problem with that.
Professional “success” has traditionally been measured by fairly straightforward standards. Salaries, titles, sales quotas, performance reviews-- these are just a few of the longstanding benchmarks we have used to evaluate whether we are succeeding at work. As our reality gradually becomes more and more digital, however, so does the way we measure our success-- professionally and personally.
The more obvious of these “performance indicators” are numerical. We track our followers, likes, and views. We strive to grow our reach, our subscriber base, and our website traffic by any means possible.
We certainly have no shortage of data to stack our self-worth against. Numbers go all the way to infinity, after all. Unfortunately, the most pervasive (and harmful) comparisons aren’t quantitative; they’re qualitative.
Suddenly, we aren’t fixating on follower counts. We’re wondering why we’re not “going viral”. We want to go viral; when we finally do, we despair over how to make lightning strike twice. There is always something “better” by our own estimation.
When the goal post keeps moving, discontentment becomes a way of life. We then agonize over why we don’t have that opportunity, that success, that level of impact, that lifestyle, that home, that body, that marriage….
With a few swipes, we can glimpse into the lives of people from all walks of life, which can fuel feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. It’s a hamster wheel from hell.
For recovering perfectionists, breaking this cycle requires a shift in perspective. Social media portrays curated (and often filtered) versions of reality. Behind every seemingly extraordinary achievement lies a story of hard work, setbacks, and sacrifices. (We have the receipts to prove it.) Without this context, however, we end up comparing our own behind-the-scenes journey to someone else’s highlight reel.
More often than not, the journey toward success is far more extraordinary than the outcome. By focusing on our own progress, we channel our energy towards personal development rather than fruitless comparisons. We can become champions of a new standard: ordinary excellence.
It may be countercultural, but don’t let the word “ordinary” fool you. There is a case to be made for finding contentment in the everyday.
While society may perpetuate the idea that only “extraordinary” accomplishments are worth recognizing, there is immense power in embracing the ordinary. It is within the seemingly mundane moments of life that we find true authenticity and connection: relishing in a favorite meal, taking in a sunrise or sunset, observing nature on a walk, singing along to your favorite song on your commute. By finding joy in simple, everyday experiences, we can cultivate a sense of deep fulfillment that transcends external validation. (Ironically, sharing these ordinary moments on social media also tends to foster the most connection and engagement!)
Make no mistake, though-- contentment doesn’t amount to complacency. Mediocrity can exist in the ordinary, but so can excellence.
What’s the key difference? If the extraordinary makes headlines, ordinary excellence makes someone’s day. One captures attention, and the other captures hearts. It’s as simple as a job well done, a thoughtful gift, or a handwritten thank-you-note. You can give a great presentation at work whether you’re in an entry-level role or the corner office. You can give back to your favorite cause whether you volunteer for an evening or write a six-figure check.
You can have profound impact and be extraordinary without the followers, likes, views, and external validation.
Whatever your ordinary life looks like, you can commit it to excellence- even when no one is watching. Ordinary excellence is defined by integrity. It’s pushing yourself at the gym, budgeting wisely, or getting eight hours of sleep every night. These may not be worth the post, but there is deep satisfaction to be found in these less-than-glamorous moments; it’s all about approaching them with the right mindset. To do that, we need to challenge our view of “success.”
It's essential to redefine what success means to us personally. Success must be measured beyond metrics, external accolades, or societal expectations. Instead, it should encompass a holistic approach that considers our well-being, relationships, and personal growth. By setting realistic goals, prioritizing self-care, and nurturing meaningful connections, we can create a path towards deeply fulfilling success.
If you’re not sure what your new version of “success” looks like, consider this: What would you still do if no one was watching? What would be worth it to you? And why? Eliminate an audience from the equation. Without the proverbial peanut gallery (digital or otherwise), your life is now performed for an audience of one- you.
When you decide what “ordinary excellence” means for your life, you’re tapping into a place of extraordinary fulfillment.