I was playing a video game (a first-person shooter for the interested) and I was unable to crack the current level. I kept dying and kept repeating the level, again and again and again. My frustration kept mounting over weeks (yup, that is how long I kept trying that particular level, attempting on weekends). And I suddenly felt a sense of inferiority – I had done well at school, had reasonable physical health and yet, a silly game was stumping me. Was I inferior or incomplete after all? Why did I keep attempting the game anyway?
Another situation – we apply to colleges and get rejected from many, selected in a few. Does it mean you are not intelligent? Does it mean that those who go to an Ivy League are more intelligent? If so, would you feel ‘inferior’ if they get paid more than you do?
You are a poor person who makes friends with a rich boy or girl. As they grow up, they are able to afford better education, able to get better jobs and live a ‘higher’ society life than you do. You feel unable to relate to them now, despite the fact that the two of you were the best of friends in childhood.
The common theme connecting the above is an inferiority complex – either caused by comparing yourself to yourself (poor videogame skills to say, great math skills) or by comparing yourself to another person out there (friends, colleagues, societal ‘elite’, businessmen, politicians, you name it). The end result of all such situations is not that you collapse, but that you are left with a feeling that you are ‘less’ or ‘incomplete’. In extreme situations, you might feel inferior to others (or to your self-concept of who you think you should be), but in most cases, this inferiority manifests as a vague unease that you are unable to put your finger on.
You choose to explore spirituality, out of desperation or to escape pain of some kind (physical, mental or emotional). Our pain is very specific to us. What pains us might hardly bother another person. And yet, you might end up asking, “Have I chosen the right path? If I continue to feel so inferior, and when other ‘non-spiritual’ folks continue to be happy and care-free, does it not mean that I am wrong?”
Inferiority manifests sometimes as a feeling of wrongness, in how we judge our lives, and our selves. Inferiority manifests as a feeling of incompleteness in how we view our life (so many goals not achieved and might never be achieved). Inferiority manifests in how we evaluate ourselves (in how inadequate our skills are, in how poor our knowledge is in so many areas, in how stupid we feel compared to others). Inferiority makes us feel stupid.
So, we need to ask – are we really stupid? Are we really incomplete? Are we really so ‘wrong’ inside? And when we have so much missing inside us, do we have the right to be happy?
- When we are so stupid and incomplete, do we have the right to parent and admonish our child who is misbehaving?
- When we are so stupid and incomplete and wrong, do we have the right to stand up to anything – against societal evils, or against those who tyrannize us? Do stupid incomplete people have the right to stand up to themselves?
- When we are so stupid and incomplete, do we even deserve to be given a job (impostor syndrome)? Do we even deserve the paycheck we receive? Should we receive our paycheck with our head held up in dignity (not arrogance) or should we bow our heads in gratitude for what we receive? (Gratitude when used to hide inferiority is not true gratitude – only two equal persons can thank each other)
So many questions…and yet we struggle, wondering when we will feel better about ourselves. We read books on improving confidence, but those often seem artificial – talking loudly or confidently cannot hide the truth that you know within you – the truth that you don’t know all the answers.
When confidence boosting band-aids and pep talks no longer work for you, it is time to discard them for the artificiality they propagate. It is time to go to the root cause of the problem – you.
- You feel inferior because you know the truth about yourself.
- You feel inferior because you assume others know this truth about you.
- You feel inferior because others seem to know more, even as you wonder where they learnt it all.
- You feel inferior because others seem happy with false confidence, and you wonder why you can’t accept falseness too.
- You start wondering if being honest with yourself is wrong. Maybe telling yourself the truth is not such a great thing. And yet…when you lie to yourself, it hurts – if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
And therefore, you make a simple decision – it is okay to tell yourself the truth and be unhappy and inferior, rather than tell yourself lies and fake happiness. It is not just okay to tell yourself the truth, you can think of no other way to be ‘clean’ inside. Filling your mind with self-lies makes you feel dirty. You feel okay telling a few white lies to manage people around you (diplomatic, political reasons), but you are comfortable with nothing less than the cold truth when talking to yourself.
It is okay if your spectacles are dirty, but your mirror should always be clean. It is okay if your house has a dirty garden, as long as your interiors are clean. You realize you do not wish to be a golden boy or girl, but you want to be a clean one (on the inside, when you are talking to yourself).
- You realize you are okay being incomplete, as long as you don’t lie to yourself about it.
- You are okay being stupid, as long as you don’t lie to yourself about it.
And thus, you realize that the only thing that makes you feel inferior is not others’ judgment, but your own. You judge yourself as inferior still, but you are at peace with it.
And then you make a decision – it is okay to be stupid, as long as you are happy. It is okay to be incomplete as long as you are happy doing what you do.
And then you realize the next insight- your interests matter more than your expertise. It is okay to suck at a job, at a school subject or at a videogame, as long as you are interested in it.
You realize what makes you happy is not how good you are at something (how good a spouse, worker or parent you are). What makes you happy is the fact that you are doing what interests you, however badly you are doing it. You realize this is how children play – they don’t play games to win, they play games to …just have a good time.
Your interests have to come first, your expertise in your interest area second. You realize that it is important to ‘conquer’ the world, but it is possible to see what little you can in the life you have. And thus, you realize, the direction(s) in which you grow your life (equivalent to interests – plural) is more important than how far you go in life. It is okay to crawl two steps in the right direction than 100 steps in the wrong direction.
You change the way you evaluate your life. You realize that your interests and direction(s) of growth are what make you happy, not how good you are at something (as represented by your societal status or money you earn). It is okay to an average happy engineer than an unhappy excellent doctor.
All of us have talents, but our talents don’t often match our interests. Choose interests first, then use what limited talents you have to explore your interests. Our interests are individual (as is our life direction) unlike the distance we travel. When we no longer bother about going far, our ego disappears along with our inferiority complex. Our ego can only survive on comparison. Since our life direction / interests are binary (like/ don’t like), our ego has no chance to assert itself and declare you as superior or inferior to anyone on this planet or universe.
And thus, you reach three truths:
- You choose nothing less than telling yourself the truth, for you can be happy no other way. Truth is what adds meaning to your life.
- You embrace your truth, your incompetence and incompleteness, and realize you can never control how ‘complete’ you become in this life, or how far you travel or succeed.
- You realize that what made your heart truly sing all along were your interests, which gave meaning and direction to your life.
By choosing direction over distance travelled, you attain inner peace. You no longer feel the need to be inferior or superior, you no longer feel the need to succeed. You rest.
Hinduism touches upon this indirectly through Karma Yoga – working for enjoyment, and not the fruit (or how many fruits you get). Money is important, but focusing on the fruits creates obsession (with money or success), superiority/ inferiority issues, egoistic judgments and suffering; but focusing on enjoying work will give you joy irrespective of whether you are successful or not.
Buddhism covers this through a general concept of detachment. Other religions such as Christianity and Islam approach it indirectly as well, but the above analysis comes out in them through scriptural interpretations by scholars rather than through explicit mainstream concepts. As always, all views expressed are personal interpretations, and are intended to show that whether we choose a non-religious path of spiritual consciousness or a faith-based religious one, all roads lead to the same goal – finding happiness, peace and joy within ourselves and the world.