In the past year, my company began a tradition called “Welcome Wednesday.”

“Welcome Wednesday” is a monthly event during which the entire office gathers to meet and welcome new hires. There are usually games and snacks, and before the event is over, new hires are asked to introduce themselves and present three “fun facts.” It’s usually during the presentation of these “fun facts” that I realize how boring my life seems, and how interesting the lives of all these new hires appear in comparison.

We’ve had people who have been to 30+ countries. We’ve had frequent skydivers and bungee jumpers. We’ve had people with multiple albums on Spotify. We’ve somehow had two — two! — people who spent an extended period living amongst rural communities in the Amazon.

We’ve regularly had people whose life experiences have blown me away and subsequently caused me to view my own experiences as lacking. I enjoy “Welcome Wednesday,” and I enjoy welcoming new peers to the company, but the event always seems to leave me a little bit bummed out. I’ve spent some time reflecting on just why that is.

The “Highlight Reel” Effect

A lot of what we see of others, a lot of our perceptions of their lives, are carefully curated. This is especially true when people get an opportunity to curate these perceptions. I’ve seen it happen on social media and during the “Welcome Wednesdays” that I mentioned above. This curation can result in what I call the “highlight reel” effect.

If given a platform, people will almost always opt to represent themselves, their lives, and their experiences in the best light possible — a “highlight reel,” so to speak. When we compare this carefully curated “highlight reel” to our “behind the scenes” — our myriad disappointments, failures, monotonies — it can leave us feeling inadequate, depressed.

Deep down, we know that the curator, the person whose “highlight reel” we’re exposed to, has experienced hardship, disappointment, and boredom. However, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that when they’re regaling you with a story of some once-in-a-lifetime experience.

At best, we may feel inadequate, and at worst, we may feel resentful of the curator. I can certainly understand this resentment, but I cannot condone it. Know this: there is nothing wrong with trying to make oneself seem interesting. When given a chance to talk freely about yourself, would your mind immediately go to the most mundane details of your life? Would your “fun facts” include missed opportunities, failures, disappointments? Probably not, so it’s not fair to hold others to those standards.

How Do We Overcome the “Highlight Reel” Effect?

Instead, we should focus inwards. We should focus on controlling our reactions, controlling how we process and respond to others’ “highlight reels.”

Use Knowledge to Your Advantage

The first thing to recognize is that knowledge is power – specifically, knowledge of the “highlight reel” effect. This can be a valuable first step in helping one control their reactions. If you understand what you’re hearing isn’t fully representative of the curator’s life, then you’re less likely to take it personally. You’re less likely to be negatively impacted by it. You’re less likely to feel resentment for the person who’s just trying to brag a little bit.

Seek Motivation

A saying you’re probably familiar with is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” I’ve always taken that statement to be a challenge or a call to action. If you’re not feeling a little bit inadequate, then you likely aren’t doing much to challenge yourself, your views, or your comfort zone.

The same goes for being the most interesting person in the room. If you’re by far the most interesting person in any given place, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your company. Yes, it’s awesome to occasionally have the best stories and the widest breadth of life experience. But if that’s how it is 100% of the time, wouldn’t it eventually become a bit stale?

The point is this: when you begin to feel inadequate because of some fun anecdote someone is sharing, try to embrace that feeling of inadequacy. Instead of letting it get you down, try to be motivated by it. Instead of thinking, “I wish I did that,” perhaps shift your mindset a bit. Think, “I want to do that.”

Don’t Feel Bad about Something You Don’t Want

Above, I encouraged you to feel motivated by your feelings of inadequacy, but I also think some reflection needs to happen before you put that motivation to action.

You may be envious of someone’s skydiving trip, but are you envious of the skydiving trip itself, or the person’s adventurous nature? You may be envious of someone’s semester spent abroad, but are you envious of their travels? Or are you envious of their willingness to push themselves out of their comfort zone?

I encourage everyone to be motivated by their envy and inadequacy but don’t collect experiences to keep up with the Joneses. The whole point of experiences is to learn something, to grow, to transform something within yourself. If you’re constantly trying to live someone else’s dream life, or their curated version of a dream life, then you’re not being true to yourself. And you’re not going to find the satisfaction you’re looking for.

Controlling Your Reaction

What’s your experience with the “highlight reel” effect? What steps are you taking to control how you react to the curated presentations of others’ lives?

Remember that, given the opportunity, people will always try to talk themselves up a bit. There’s nothing wrong with that, and they don’t deserve any resentment from your end. Envy and feelings of inadequacy, however, are more understandable.

Combat those emotions with knowledge of the “highlight reel” effect. Let those feelings be your motor. Let them motivate you to pursue greater, more fulfilling experiences. Just make sure you’re not chasing after something you don’t actually want, something which will bring you no fulfillment. Live well, and experience widely, but make sure you’re doing it for you.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash
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