It’s not healthy to compare yourself with others all the time. Focus on yourself. Generally I try not to compare myself with all the other much more successful people of whom I’m crazily, bitterly envious. Not too much.
There’s one person though, the constant subject, the permanent comparison, the guy my brain returns to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, when the mind is ablur with a whole load of recurring, endlessly cycling nonsense. Maybe it’ll be the first night in a while without the girlfriend, or the first night in a while without a drink. The subject? The guy? My brother. Yep, him again. There’s probably tons here about him already, saying much the same.
They’re often the first people you ever really compare yourself against, your siblings. Can I do that thing they’re doing? Crawling, walking, running, kicking a ball. Two and a half years my senior, we competed a lot as kids and I always lost and it always ate me and it still does. He has remained better than me at pretty much everything and I have remained confused and angry at life, aged 33.
Going to school, teachers were prepared for another version of him, excited after the precocious headstrong whirlwind that had gone before. But no, sorry. I was the difficult experimental second album, the solid but largely underwhelming sequel, the convoluted and confusing follow-up. I still feel like that’s how I’m perceived by people – regardless of whether they know my brother.
I don’t believe I’m entirely worthless. On the contrary, I feel more capable than a lot of people at some stuff. But I have no support now, so find myself floating, lost in space, unremarkable, missable, not especially employable, a terrified hostage to fortune.
We’re early teens, maybe I’m around 11 or 12 and he’s 13 or 14. He asks what I want to do in life, when I’m older, and I unthinkingly reply footballer or rock star, knowing neither is genuinely achievable. I have never demonstrated anything like the required talent , and am unlikely to. He replies, “oh, I’d hate to want to do something unrealistic that I could never do,” – or some such. It’s not malicious, just matter of fact.
I still feel a similar disappointment and emptiness, that I’ll never do something or achieve something or have a job that I really *really* want. It won’t happen. I can keep trying and working and hoping. But, you know, in all reality, it won’t happen. It’s my fault for only being drawn to stupidly popular things.
Returning to the family home at Christmas, minutes had passed with us all under the same roof before I felt my comparative inferiority: he’s right and more clever (though a buffoon) and I’m rubbish.
As kids he made me feel unremarkable, not very good, beatable, missable. And he still does, without being cruel, without even trying. I wonder, often mid-conversation, how is he so certain about everything? I know nobody who is or appears to be as constantly sure of themselves, and of everything.
Our realities are so different. Our ideas of ambition and success and relative middle-class poverty. We disagreed on the pay hike for MPs, which my brother thought would be a good incentive to attract a higher quality of person, not that I voiced my disagreement that strongly, if at all. His London-centric concept of salaries is extremely different to my embattled, embittered provincial one. I would probably accept 20 grand and considerably less stress right now, maybe even lower.
I don’t warm to him easily, that involuntary smuggy smarminess to his manner; it’s cringeworthy and weird and embarrassing. The way he speaks to his kids in those leading questions with that ingratiating intonation at the end: “do you think that is sensible or is it silly?”
All the same he is so much better at life than me. He is one of those people for whom, from a distance, life seems to have been a breeze. Education (besides a little bullying), partner (Week One of university), education, career, marriage, mortgage, two beautiful kids: all before turning 30. Bosh. Job done. What’s the problem? Don’t make a meal of it.
Me, on the other hand: not a fucking clue what I’m doing or where I’m going. Completing patronising application form questions for crap, low-wage jobs, trying to work out if I have a low enough opinion of myself to return to a call-centre next week. Hounded by guilt for infecting my girlfriend with miserable angst and resentful at my paranoia about every pound spent, my inability to treat her or plan anything.
A chink was shown in his armour one evening. His wife confided to my girlfriend that he fears failure, and sat alongside each other on the sofa, I opened up a general knowledge quiz app on an iPad. He squirmed with discomfort. “No, I’ll be rubbish.” The man devours historical non-fiction, is pretty much at the top of his profession, a very smart and knowledgeable man. He feared getting questions wrong on an app. It amused me, briefly, especially when he got one or two questions wrong, and tried to shrug it off in just the same way Dad does when he answers a questions out loud on a television quiz show, and gets it wrong. I love it when that happens too.
My Dad and my brother share the same sense of certainty in everything. They are extremely seldom wrong in the confines of their own heads. Certainty and always being unambiguously correct about everything is a virtue which they hold extremely dear. Ambiguity or nuance does not exist for them. Apparently not one of life’s major winners, maybe it’s natural for me to be more relaxed about these things.
Relaxing about everything doesn’t come naturally though. When my brain spins during unsettled nights; when I’ve tried placing myself on football pitches and seeing if a game magically starts happening around me devolved of my conscious brain (I love dreams of playing football), but it hasn’t happened; when my brain has whirred through a highlights selection of my football playing days (happens embarrassingly often but is nice to do – disappointingly few goals); when I’ve visited that serene, remote pond, surrounded by snow but not iced over, and envisioned myself sitting on a nearby bench as an older man; when I’ve tried gliding high and unaided over a canyon; when I’ve remembered the few lovely moments over Christmas spent with his kids; when I’ve worried massively about money and the lack of a career and my inability to provide for myself, let alone anyone else; and I’ve angsted about the future and thoughts of ever being a father; then he appears, his well-fed belly bulging, grinning like a buffoon, spouting something he believes is witty.
But just look how much better he is than you, look how much more he has of everything that is meaningful. Hahaha.