This article by Sebastian Marshall really inspired me, so I wanted to share parts of it here. You can read the full article here.
A few years back, I was getting complacent. I was a successful entrepreneur, in the top 1% for my age. Whenever I compared myself to people similar to me, it wasn’t even close. I worked more, accomplished more, produced more, did more meaningful things, was traveling the world. I read more books, did more writing, was generally healthier and more disciplined, spent my time well. I was the top 1% for my age, and even better than that if you measured me against people from similar backgrounds.
I think it’s easy for people who are doing great to get complacent. You look at the general sloth and laziness and complacency of most people, you see that you’re achieving greatly, and you feel like you’re so far above that. You give yourself a pat on the back. “Ah, yes, I’m doing great!”
I had a shift. I don’t remember the exact day, but one day I thought to myself –
“I’m not going to compare myself against people my age any more. I’m going to start comparing myself to the greatest men of all time.”
Instantly, I’d gone from top 1% of my peer group (people near my age, self-made, alive today), to the bottom 1% of the greatest people of all time. I started looking at Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Tokugawa, Meiji, Augustus, Trajan, Socrates, Aristotle, Confucius, Wellington, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Medici, Zhuge, Sejong, Salah, Shah Jahan, and so on.
Suddenly I was not doing excellent; in fact, I was behind schedule. In fact, I realized entirely that the path I was on did not lead to where I was capable of going.
He goes on to say,
People like to be better than those around them and better than their peers. I was, I really was. I was traveling the world and working on hard problems while most people my age were out drinking beer at parties with other kids. I was playing on a level far above my peers – but what was the difference in how much I built? Going from being top 1% to top .9% – is this working breaking your back and straining for? Is it inspiring, going to be even better than the lazy, complacent children I was comparing myself to? Most young people these days have no real dreams, no strong ethics, no strength. They stand for nothing, they want nothing, they do nothing. Just by trying, even a little bit, you wind up better than most of them.
And it’s easy to stop there, have a nice life, be very well off. Not me. You see, I have friends, colleagues, acquaintances who are amazing people, who I am honored to serve and associate with. But I don’t have any peers. I don’t know anyone who wishes to build as much as I do, who want to do as much as I do, who want to serve as much as I do, who want to be strong as I aspire to become.
I’m calm in this right now. It’s not defiance, it’s not a mighty roar. If anything, it is more like a shrug of the shoulders. Yes, I will become excellent. Because, why not become excellent?
But it wasn’t that way at first. The way we mentally evaluate ourselves, our identity – it has such a huge impact on how we think, how we feel, and what we do. Taking myself mentally out of the top 1% and dropping myself into the bottom 1% – do you know how sickening that feels? Maybe you can imagine it intellectually, maybe, but I doubt I could show you what the emotions feel like. One day, I am feeling good, comfortable, happy, I am achieving and I am proud of my achievements, I am doing better than anyone would have thought possible for me, and doing well by anyone’s standards. The next day, I am feeling neurotic, uncomfortable, unhappy, pressed for time, having achieved nothing of what I need to do yet.
I [was] on the bottom of the ladder – no, worse than that, I [was] on the top of the wrong ladder.