The problem with other people is that they make me feel inadequate. Totally not their fault, of course. It's all on me. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Of course, thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt makes me feel inadequate, too. Did you know she was married to a president and was a staunch advocate for civil rights, women's rights, and human rights? She gave her own press conferences!
Anyway, regardless of Eleanor Roosevelt's awesomeness, the fact is that I often start my day feeling pretty good about myself. When my shoes match, there's gas in my car, and the kid at the coffee shop calls me Miss instead of Ma'am, it seems like everything's coming up Kim. But then I make the mistake of striking up a conversation with someone – at work, or writing group, or the coffee shop. That person tells me about their excellent promotion at work. Or how they sold their house in 12 hours for more than the asking price. I notice that not only do their shoes match each other, but they also match the handbag and belt.
Suddenly I'm deflated. So what about my stupid matching shoes? This kid serving me coffee and calling me "Miss" just sold his late grandfather's 1964 Mustang for $50,000.
Logically I know that if someone else is successful or looks good or has generous dead relatives, it doesn't diminish me, my choices, and the great things I have. But logic doesn't have any bearing on feelings. I'm still left with a case of petty jealousy and second-guessing every decision I've ever made that led me down a path to not buying the matching handbag or finding a valuable 50-year-old car in my garage.
The other day I was at the coffee shop – again. Don't judge. I've seen you there, too. At the next table was a young woman complaining to an older woman who appeared to be her grandmother that some girl she had gone to high school with had just gotten married to a successful lawyer and bought a house.
The grandmother said, "You want to get married? What about college?"
"No, I don't really want to get married now," the girl replied. "But I'm living in a dorm room the size of a refrigerator box and spending half my life studying at the library. Meanwhile a girl my age – who was always a jerk in school, by the way – married a guy with money and gets to decorate her new four-bedroom house. It's crappy."
Grandma smiled and patted her granddaughter's hand. "Stay in your lane, sweetheart."
"Stay in your lane. Keep your eyes on what's ahead of you and work toward your goals. If you focus on what everyone around you seems to be doing, you'll go crazy."
"That's easy to say, but I'm staring down the barrel of two more years of dorm food and a date with the library every Saturday night just to get my bachelors degree. Then more years for dental school, then paying back student loans. By the time I get around to finding a husband, we'll have to spend our honeymoon in the retirement home."
"Think of the money you'll save on the reception if your guests only eat Jell-o and Ensure," Grandma said with a chuckle.
The girl groaned, and Grandma added, "Like I said, stay in your lane. You made your choices and they're good ones. They're not easy to accomplish, but they're worth accomplishing and you'll be so glad when you're running your own dental practice. Meanwhile, this friend of yours might not be so lucky in the future. I hope things work out well for her, but you never know what's really going on in someone else's life. What if her lawyer husband is an arrogant pain in the neck? Or the roof on her new house leaks? What if the place is built on an ancient burial ground and it's haunted?"
Grandma shrugged. "You just never know what's going on in someone else's lane. It could be haunted. The important thing is to keep your eyes on your lane and don't worry about what's going on in someone else's."
That's about when I thought I should stop eavesdropping on the conversation. Grandma seemed pretty smart, and I didn't want her to notice that some strange woman in the coffee shop was hanging on her every word.
No, the irony isn't lost on me that by eavesdropping I picked up some great advice about staying in my own lane and not focusing on what other people are doing. But irony aside, Grandma reminded me that I'm not in some imaginary competition with the rest of the world. It's better to ignore everyone travelling on either side of me and just focus on my road ahead. There are 7 billion ways to live a life in the world today, and I can't do all of them. It doesn't matter if the people travelling on either side of me are driving $50,000 inherited Mustangs or carrying Coach bags or are speeding to their literary agents' offices to sign multi-book contracts. Stay in your lane and be grateful that I have a car, was able to pull on a pair of shoes – matching or not – and had enough gas to get on the freeway.
But still, that classic Mustang would be a sweet ride.