For this year’s Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., I want to reflect on what it really means to be thankful and to have gratitude.
In my 20 year post college career, one of my most valuable lessons is that envy is the greatest of all poisons. And its antidote is gratitude and self awareness.
I used to live a life comparing myself to others, whether they were other students in school or colleagues at work.
Society pushes this upon us. From parents who compare their kids to their friends’ or relatives’ kids, to being graded on the curve, to beating out rivals for the highest possible bonus and promotion.
My LinkedIn Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
In the past few years, it became even easier with social media. I distinctly remember one night, when I was living in Shanghai, randomly going on LinkedIn to see what my college friends and ex-colleagues were up to.
How did they weather the 2008 Global Financial Crisis? Did they keep their jobs? Did they get promotions?
I did it so casually. And soon I wished I hadn’t. One friend just had become a managing director at a bulge bracket U.S. investment bank. He not only stayed in the financial services industry but even got promoted. Another had gotten cut from an international Japanese investment bank, but quickly got a high level corporate development position at a U.S. commercial bank.
I couldn’t help but to compare their titles (and likely compensation) to mine.
I was certain they weren’t dealing with the minutia of staffing teams, negotiating contracts, and ensuring compliance standards were met like I was.
I envisioned that they were heavy hitters with a 7 figure (or very close to it) compensation to match.
I felt so depressed, and even a bit angry.
Gratitude and Self Awareness
But then I realized something about myself.
My entire outlook was colored by what I thought other people were doing right and what I was doing wrong. I really had no concrete reason to think that way.
Despite the titles, could they be just living lives of quiet desperation?
Maybe they were successfully clawing their way up the ladder (or desperately clinging to the rung they were currently on) because just one slip could mean financial ruin.
Maybe they thought that I was living in Shanghai on an amazing expat package, including free flights home, private school for kids (if I had any), and company paid for luxury high rise accommodations?
I definitely wasn’t. But they didn’t know that.
To be sure, I had a pretty comfortable life. Compared to the average Chinese person, I was likely in the top 1% in terms of lifestyle. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a trendy area of a first tier city. I ate at expat-oriented restaurants that were much more expensive than local Chinese ones. I traveled throughout China and Asia for vacations. And I had access to Western standard health care.
Also, I had the opportunity to move back to the U.S. at any time (admittedly, my wife’s immigration was a potential wildcard), to go wherever family and career would take me.
I learned and am still constantly learning to be grateful for what I have.
I learned not to compare myself to those above and below me on the ladder.
And, I learned to question the ladder itself. Sometimes, one needs to jump off society’s ladder and onto one of your own making,
How about you?
Have you ever had a bad case of career and lifestyle FOMO from an inopportune Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn glance?