Forget the Joneses

“Because I have to.”

That’s the usual response I get from friends when I inquire why they are involved in so many activities—activities that are clearly causing stress and fatigue. I see this a lot in families with young kids: adults racing around from work to school to the practice field to piano lessons to… the list goes on and on.

It’s not limited to families, however. I also see my single friends in similar situations. Work, happy hour, a second job, and social engagements fill their calendars to the max. So who’s the culprit behind all of this running around?

It’s those damn Joneses.

Of course I’m referring to the age-old parable of “keeping up with the Joneses,” those famous neighbors/friends we all love to hate. We see the Joneses in all parts of the city. In the suburbs, they’re the ones with the better house, the better lawn, and the kids in four after school activities. In urban areas, the Joneses are the jetsetters, driving their fancy cars to lavish parties, expensive restaurants and going on ultimate vacations. The Joneses can be found in every corner of the world.

It’s not them, it’s you

Behind their backs, most people hate the Joneses. But it’s not the Jonses that are the problem, it’s the constant comparison of our own lives in relation to the Jonses that is the problem. To make matters worse, our constantly-connected world now allows us to keep up with the Joneses 24 hours a day through social media. We fill our computer screens and minds with evidence of our own lack in comparison to others. This non-stop storyline causes us to feel jealous, empty and inadequate.

That perceived inadequacy is what causes us to overextend ourselves. As our social networks grow larger, I’m noticing even more of a drive for people to try and live up to some unachievable lifestyle, and they’re willing to put their health and sanity on the line to get it. It’s the reason I so often hear, “Because I have to.”

But do you have to? No, you don’t.

It’s time we reclaim the perfection that is our own lives. It’s time we focus on our own accomplishments, our own victories and our own contributions to the world. It’s time we remember that through our own unique lives, we are positively affecting the universe. We just don’t always see it.

The reason we don’t see our impact is because of our old friend the ego. The ego is our interface with the physical world. It examines the world and helps us make sense of the landscape around us and it determines how we should interact with others.

The ego isn’t always right. Yes, it means well. Its job is to protect Number One—the “self” that we know and relate to. But the ego suffers from not having all of the information available. It becomes scared and overprotective. It blows things out of proportion and causes us to question our own motives.

The ego is susceptible to the constant comparison with the Joneses. It views the success of others as a threat, reasoning that we will be judged negatively by the world if we don’t act the same way, achieve the same things or do better than our neighbors, friends and coworkers.

Most of us don’t take the time to question the ego, we simply rely on it to guide our actions and responses to the world and call it good. But this is only the beginning of our troubles, for when we accept—unquestioningly—data from the ego we get a skewed view of ourselves.

When we don’t challenge that data, we simply assume that we have to keep up with the Joneses. We accept that the world will judge us negatively if we don’t do everything in our power to live up to standards set by the media, coworkers, friends, family, or our own one-sided egos. We feel trapped and hypothesize that the only way to live is to keep up with the rest of the world, whether we want to or not.

Reality challenge™

This week, I invite you to challenge your relationship with the Joneses and your ego. Whenever you catch yourself feeling overextended, overwhelmed, or are doing something you really don’t want to do, stop and ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Am I doing this activity because I really want to?
  2. Am I getting any pleasure out of this activity?
  3. Who am I expecting to notice that I am doing this activity? (friends, spouse, kids, neighbors, PTA president)?
  4. What’s the worst thing that would happen if I didn’t do this activity?
  5. Would I still be involved in this activity if no one knew who I was?
  6. Could I quit this activity tomorrow?

As you can see from the questions, what you’re trying to do is get your ego to be a little more objective. Yes, there are certain things you have to do, like going to work and taking care of the kids. But is anyone forcing you to volunteer your time every night of the week?

The answers you give to the questions above should help you see how much you are trying to keep up with the Joneses or if you are really wanting to involve yourself in activities that give you a good return. What advice would you give to a friend who gave you the same answers?

We oftentimes don’t see how we have painted ourselves into a corner with our lives. When we let prestige, honor, materialism or acceptance rule our activities, we seldom get a good return. When we use our time in purposeful, nurturing,  and fulfilling ways, we get an excellent return.

So, which will it be? A good return on your time or a stress and fatigue trying to keep up with the Joneses? This week, make it a priority to find out.