It is very useful to take inspiration from the lives of others. Having mentors is an important part of professional and personal development, and emulating people you respect can highlight a path forward for your career. These positive examples can give you confidence in your decisions and confirmation that success is possible. We can also find inspiration through people whose work we admire. Reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and attending seminars are great ways to learn new skills, meet new people, and refresh your thinking. When you find people with similar values and ideas, it can make you feel like you are not alone in the world. The rise of the internet has made finding interesting people and accessing new ideas easier than ever. On top of that, the 24-hour media cycle brings constant stories of start-up millionaires and celebrity glamour.
While it is wonderful to discover new role models and find inspiration in the work of others, there also lurks danger – the twin dragons of jealousy and regret. Don’t get caught in the trap of letting someone else define success for you. Learning from is good – but feeling that because you aren’t doing the same things they are you’ve somehow failed is not. Have you ever seen someone featured on TV and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve wasted your life? You read the blog of your favorite entrepreneur or adventurer, and your career or your last vacation just doesn’t measure up. There was even a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology that demonstrated how people can get depressed if they spend a lot of time reading Facebook. The study described the issue as “social comparison”. Intellectually, we know that our friends only post the good stuff, the interesting events, or the cutest pictures of their kids. But when we see attractive images, or hear about events that we didn’t attend, the pangs of want poke at us.
For people already looking to make a change in their life, these inspirational lives can insert themselves into our dreams and desires. It can be difficult to listen to stories of success and impact, and not imagine that you should be doing that as well. I was in a coaching session recently, and my client was struggling with what she wanted to do. She was feeling the desire to travel the world and live abroad, but she didn’t know how to go about it. We worked through a number of options, but nothing resonated. The more options we discussed, the more the nomadic life didn’t seem fit with her desired lifestyle and other personal ambitions. As we delved into it, it became clear that she was unhappy with her current life, and didn’t have a “mission” of her own yet, and was inspired when she read about people who travel. So she thought by traveling she would be happy. But she had adopted someone else’s dream. When you are looking to make a change, you should examine very deeply whether it is what you really want, or if it just sounds better than what you are doing now. Is this your dream, or is it someone else’s dream that you adopted as your own?
Trying a new way of living on for size is a great way to see if you would like it. Learning from the experience of others can be a great way to broaden our view of what’s possible. Modeling our actions by the example of our mentors can drive us to new heights. But are feeling depressed, not good enough, or jealous of some element of someone else’s life? Do you think you should be doing that too? Only you can define your own success. Don’t let someone else’s life dictates yours to you. Our connected world allows you to sample almost any career or lifestyle you can imagine, and at a fairly low risk or cost. That’s the good news. The bad news is that all those options can leave you feeling overwhelmed and feeling unsuccessful. But remember, you only see what others put out there for you to see. Success is what you define it to be. Whether it’s money, family, service, peace, or something else – it will be a success unique to you. Don’t let others define it for you.