Lessons Learned from Inventing Anna

February 27, 2022

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the Netflix series, Inventing Anna. If you haven’t seen the series yourself, it’s about a young woman faking her way to the height of New York’s elite as a German heiress. She spends A LOT of money that is not hers to spend. She stays at a series of beautiful New York City hotels, never actually paying for her room while having all meals and services added to her room. There’s more to the story, but I’ll let you binge the series if you’d like.

As I was pouring my coffee this morning, it occurred to me that many of the stories we tell ourselves could be just as fake as the lies Anna told. There are moments I catch myself comparing my life to the imagined life of another and I have to ask myself, “do I know that story to be the truth?” Sure, there are women I follow on social media whose stories I consume daily. But, for as many days as I’ve clicked on their profile picture to peer into their lives, I’m only getting a portion of their truth. My eyes see the portion of their lives they allow the world to see.

My comparisonitis tends to project perfection onto the lives of the people I admire. If I see them accomplishing something I hope to accomplish myself, they are not only admirable, they become the personification of perfection. For example, my writing time is in the morning. The early hours are entirely mine to be undistracted, my mind is fresh and the creativity is usually flowing (sometimes it takes a cup of coffee). As much as I’d like to say I start writing at the same time morning each day, that’s simply not true.

There are days the snooze buttons win and I lose time. On the really cold mornings, the thought of leaving my very warm, cozy bed sounds awful. Then, there are the mornings, like the morning I wrote this, that have me staring at my clock from my warm bed as the numbers tick by for fifteen minutes. As those glowing numbers rounded up the next hour, I judged myself for failing to be as perfect as a particular social media influencer. She says her feet hit the ground the minute her alarm lights up each morning. “Goals”, I think to myself. In truth, I have a bad habit of blurring the lines between goals and perfection in my head.

In that moment of judgment, I couldn’t help but think “I wish I could be more like her.” It’s a thought I’ve had before, but I caught myself this time. A new question followed, “How much do I know about her life? Do I see her getting up at the same time every time each day and do her feet hit the ground as her alarm goes off?”

The simple act of questioning the perfection my mind was assuming created space for me to be proud of my own imperfect but consistent progress. Any time I compare myself to the assumed perfection of another, I focus on the distance between myself and my goal, rather than seeing their success as evidence that I could do it, too. Comparison is toxic… particularly when the comparison isn’t even rooted in fact.

There’s a quote I’ve had hanging on my wall for years now. It reads, “All too often it audacity and not talent thatt moves an artist to center stage.” What if, instead of comparing myself to an unrealistic story about someone I admire, I dared to look for similarities in how we’re pursuing our goals? They may be a few stages ahead, but that doesn’t imply I’ll never get there. It suggests someone like me can be there, too. The capacity to reach a goal often lies in the ability to rewrite a mindset and the profound effects of consistently showing up.

The judgment stopped when the comparison stopped. Progress will always be more important than perfection. The stories we see on social media can have a disturbing impact on the stories we tell ourselves if we allow them to do so. In the place of judgment or unrealistic expectations, perhaps there could be the simple question, “Do I know that the to be the truth?” Critical thinking in this space can make all the difference.

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