Learning that other people's success is not your failure

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Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

Did your reunion include a three-way dance routine featuring a teenage dweeb admirer turned dreamy millionaire?

Did your reunion include a three-way dance routine featuring a teenage dweeb admirer turned dreamy millionaire?

My 10-year high school reunion was on the weekend. I didn't go – I've lived in a different city to the one I grew up in for the last four years, I know what everyone's up to these days because I'm an expert Facebook stalker (please, someone endorse me for this skill on LinkedIn) and, most importantly, there probably wasn't a Romy and Michele-style three-way dance routine featuring a teenage dweeb admirer turned dreamy millionaire, so really, what's the point?

Last week, I saw photos of my high school crush, who I spent two tragic years trying to impress over MSN with pretentious conversations about Radiohead and poetry, getting married.

At 17, I thought that by 27 I'd have it pretty figured out. Long-term relationship, if not married. With kids. And a house. That I owned. Stable job (to afford the mortgage for the house that I owned). Maybe a book or two under my belt. Definitely a dog.

The reality? I often say jokingly (but not really) that I'm going through my quarter-life crisis. My life is pretty much the Friends theme song, if Friends was about a girl whose love life is less stable than the imaginary child of Bridget Jones and Taylor Swift. I don't have kids or own property. I've only recently started working in a job I love after years of career uncertainty, and make a little extra on the side doing the freelance writing hustle. I've got 99 problems and mental health is definitely one. No dog, just a demonic cat I adopted on a whim after being unceremoniously dumped last year.

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And honestly, I've never been happier.

Many of my high school peers have the things I thought I'd have by now. Marriage, kids, mortgages, high-paying careers. A girl several grades below me is in a band that tours the world. Hell, I went to the same school as Rebel Wilson. Classmates are as far-flung as New York and London, living ritzy lives, working ritzy jobs, eating fancy meals at fancy restaurants I can't pronounce the names of. Immaculately curated Facebook feeds show the life I always thought I wanted – the life that, until recently, I resented myself for failing to attain.

That is, until a friend said something that really stuck with me: other people's success is not your failure.

There was a lot of chatter amongst my high school friends leading up to the reunion. A common thread was disinterest in the whole shebang because of the pissing contest vibe of it all – the need to prove that we'd become something significant in the last decade to people whose opinions we don't even particularly care for. The fear that the cliquey, judgmental uneasiness of high school would still ring true in a setting at once familiar and foreign.

It's easy to feel envious of others when you feel like you haven't done much comparatively, especially if they're crushing it in your desired field. Who hasn't felt a pang of jealousy when a peer achieves something incredible? When comparing yourself and your achievements to others, it's not unusual to feel insignificant, and it's all too tempting to shoot them down in your head – they're not that great, anyway, so why are they doing so much better than I am?

What I've learned slowly over the years is that the best way to deal with these feelings is to use them as a motivator. While some people are at the top of their game due to nepotism, others are there because they've worked damn hard. Rather than letting the green-eyed monster get the better of me, why not use it to ask myself how to be better, and push myself to get there too?

The greatest thing about being involved in creative communities is the level of support afforded on a peer-to-peer basis. In my experience, friends and acquaintances in similar fields are always happy to chat about how they got to where they are, and offer tips on how to follow a similar path. In the past, feelings of inadequacy and jealousy would've prevented me from engaging in any such discourse – but learning how to push past the discomfort to have real conversations has not only given me connections and advice, but also taught me the art of humility.

Success is not an end point, it's an ongoing process – and an individual journey that should be measured as such. Weddings, babies, mortgages and the yo-pro corporate lifestyle might make a #blessed life for some (and of course, life isn't always as peachy as it looks through an Instagram filter). A paper trail of freelance invoices, enough Tinder horror stories to fill a book so thick it'd put War and Peace to shame and the self-determination to get to where I want to be, roadblocks be damned, make one for me.

I do wish I invented post-its, though.