Why you may or may not shoot for the stars

Um, I heard about Jeff Bezos’ plans to launch his family into space for an hour...

June 2021 – Unseriously Sincere Ideas Write-Up #10

I gave up on writing intros to these write ups because I got sick of apologising for sending them late. But seeing as though I acquired a few new subscribers this month, I felt like I should make some effort to ensure you feel comfortable.

So please, everybody gather around, take off your shoes, choose a spot on the floor. Please hold hands with the person next to you. Wait, it stinks in here now, put your shoes back on and let’s get into it. 

Here’s why you may or may not be shooting for the stars…

The other day I heard about Jeff Bezos’s plans to launch his family into space for an hour – costs something like $4000 per minute, mind you – and the first place I went was into the mind of another highly ambitious rocket enthusiast, Elon Musk. You know, the other billionaire who plays with human space shuttles like they’re Lego sets.

I can just imagine Elon picking up the news that Bezos will be the first to actually travel on a rocket he built himself. The lights in Elon’s brain start short-circuiting, alarms screech, dials and gadgets whizz around every which way. He’d be straight on the phone to his PA telling them to cancel his private jet to The Hamptons – because boring – and he’d rebook something more spectacular, like a Tesla to the moon.  

“My rocket looks more like a penis than yours. I win.”

Elon Musk has been explained by his first wife as being extremely competitive and someone who doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s also been accused by plenty of other people as being an outright narcissist with a strong track record of behaving like an utter douchebag to get what he wants. But people tend to forgive him for being such a raging twerp because of the whole some-of-the-greatest-innovation-the-world-has-ever-seen thing. I get it.

Regardless, it seems quite uncanny to live in a world where two billionaires (three if you include Richard Branson) are building rockets against each other like they’re competing in a school science competition.

I mean, it seems uncanny when it’s simplified like that. But it makes a little more sense when you consider why these wealthy wannabe world-changers might actually be so driven to be the best at what they do.“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.”

–Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politcius, 1676

We’re all programmed to be reasonably competitive. Depending on who you are and what you’re all about, you might be competing for the best grades or the best job. Maybe you’re building your own rocket. Maybe you want to raise the most successful children. Or you’re focused on having the best parties. Or getting the best boob job. Or leading the most fierce street gang. 

What’s important to note is what motivates you to compete. Where do you think you’ll get the most kudos? Who are you trying to be like? What childhood insecurities turned you into such an asshole to contend with?

Most of the time we are pretty unaware we are doing it, but every day we are measuring ourselves up against other people – our peers in particular. We assess how well we are doing in life by comparing ourselves against our social backdrop; what we see people of similar social status doing.

So if someone in your peer group announces they’re taking a family trip to space, you’re probably going to feel inadequate if you can’t go all cosmic with your annual leave, too.

Social Comparison

Social Comparison’ is a theory initially proposed by social psychologist, Leon Festinger, in 1954. It’s a human trait that’s fundamental to our motivation to achieve, but it can also be held responsible for your feelings of jealousy and injustice when you find yourself not quite up to social scratch.

Those feelings can be better defined as social comparison bias, and just like most other biases, it can cause us to be raging twerps unto others as well as unto ourselves. 

Think about how you feel when you consider what you’ve achieved in your life. Do you feel proud, satisfied? Maybe you feel slightly arrogant about where you’re at on the ladder. That’s okay, a lot of us do.

But then maybe, in some ways, you also feel a sense of resentment, disappointment or some green-eyed envy? Maybe you just landed on the head of a snake and slid down to the bottom where you have to start again in this game we call Snakes & Ladders.

“Ladders are for losers. I’m taking my rocket.”

Life is but a game of Snakes & Ladders for us all.

You don’t get to choose the colour you play with. And you have no control over what you roll or where you land. But at least you’re playing.    

The question is, who are you playing Snakes & Ladders with? What are you equating your success against? Are you playing with someone whose parents started them half way up the board? Does someone have the unfair advantage of being delegated the white piece to start off with?

While we might like to believe we are all created equal, we’re not. Brains, birthplace and bankrolls are three important variables, but being burnt in a house fire or having your parents die in a car crash shift the balance significantly too. Thus, I suggest we rethink the idea of being created equal. The value of our lives is equal, but luck, opportunity and circumstances are not.

While social comparison can be great for motivating people to reach for the stars, it can also cause our arrogance or inadequacy levels to soar. We set expectations for ourselves and our peers without considering the bigger picture detail. Without thinking that maybe these people have had more or less of a chance than ourselves.

You can look for inspiration in what people do but you can’t look for a destination in who they are. If you set and maintain reasonable benchmarks for yourself, like having a beautiful garden, giving enough time as a volunteer, growing a great sourdough starter, you might just turn around tomorrow and realise how well you are already doing in this game called… Snakes and Ladders.  

Jess from Comfort is for Wimps

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