How often have you heard the following?
- A complaint that someone ‘can eat whatever they want’
- A complaint that something is easy for someone, such as ‘you like to run so it’s not as hard for you’
The implication is always that the person being talked about has it easy in some way that the speaker doesn’t. And of course it’s possible that this is true. There can be differences in people’s innate abilities or health.
But in truth that happens much more rarely than people want to think , in a smaller scope, and it isn’t a very useful point of view. Thinking that someone is succeeding because they have it easier than you is harmful to both of you in a variety of ways.
- It removes your own agency. While it’s true that every person is in a different situation and we all may have things that will be more (sometimes much more) difficult for us, focusing on why it’s worse for us doesn’t help with the one thing that would really matter – getting it done anyway. If you have a habit of denying your own agency, even in jest, you may start to believe that you really are helpless.
- You are probably wrong about the effort on both sides. For your part, people often overestimate their own habits in their favor. For the other person’s part, you don’t see what they are doing when you aren’t around. You only see the results. You don’t know how they train, what they eat, what kind of books or courses they take outside of work to improve their skills. What looks easy may be the result of much past effort. A person who can run five miles more easily than another can run for one mile probably isn’t blessed – they are just someone who has run many more miles in the past.
- The other side of #1 and #2 is that you not only cast yourself as helpless, but you deny that other person recognition for the effort they’ve put in. You start to assume that other people ‘just have things.’ Not only is this disrespectful and wrong, but combine it with #1 and you start to get a victim mentality where you are threatened or offended by other people doing better than you.
Adults Don’t Resent Honest Success
Adults should not be threatened by others’ success, and consciously or not, saying that something comes easy for another person is a defense against that success. We don’t want to admit that we are doing something wrong or that they might be working much harder than is visible to us. But that’s immature. I suggest a different approach.
First, don’t do this. Be happy for someone if they are having success. Be impressed if it’s success in an area that you aren’t as successful in. And finally, if you also want to be successful in this area – ask them what they do. You might learn something about what it takes. If nothing else, you’ll get a better appreciation of their hidden effort.
Be prepared to work for it a little bit. What they do might be such a habit for them that they have trouble explaining it, which can make their first answer appear to validate that it’s easy for them. But that means you should ask more specific questions. To go on the weight example, suppose you ask and the thin and in-shape person says they don’t exercise that much and eat what they want. This is probably because they don’t see their own habits anymore. If you are really interested in learning, keep asking for examples of what they eat and how much. Do they snack between meals? What specifically is their exercise?
This attitude works for career skills as much as personal growth. Try to learn from the people around you, rather than assume that the differences ‘are just the way it is.’ You will often be surprised about how people got to where they are and what contributed to their abilities. And this understanding can only help you.