Before I start talking about the ultimate fear, let me say a few good things about such groups. First and foremost it is of course a good avenue for networking, which may extend beyond a social network into a business network as old classmates can become potential customers or business partners with their current professions. Secondly, somehow you will have a feeling that these are the people you can trust. I have no evidence for this, but to me and most people I know, the friends you made in the very early stages of your lives are the people you tend to trust more. This may be because at a very young age, we are not so protective of our vulnerabilities, and may sometimes cry and share our fears to our friends. Again no evidence for this, I feel that when you show your vulnerabilities to someone, that person will drift closer to you. Coming to the time of our professional lives, we become super protective of our vulnerabilities. At this stage of your lives, you only want to show the stronger side of yourself to people around you. Weakness and tears are reserved to a quiet corner somewhere where nobody can see you.
The ultimate fear
So what is the "ultimate fear" I am talking about? Well it is the age old fear of being not as successful as most of your old peers in your life. Normally this will refer to success in the professional career, but may also include your social life such as your marriage and your family. Again thanks (or no thanks) to technology and social media apps such as facebook and linkedin, it is very easy to find out how your old peers are doing professionally, and whether they are happily married with the albums and albums of ubiquitous photo posted. In your late thirties or forties, you may still be a struggling junior executive or engineer, and your old peer, who scored less As than you in 'O' or 'A' levels, may have shot up to be a director of a prestigious organization. You could be the most popular girl in your colleague days, and yet you have gone through a very unhappy marriage or even divorce, or you could be still looking for a partner when you are already in your forties. Then you see this old peer who used to be plain looking and have always faded into background, suddenly looking glamorous beside a suave and successful businessman husband with cute little children around them. In the past we could have just "disappeared" without a trace if we feel that we are a failure in life. In the age of social media, we can no longer hide, and this is a reality we have to face today. With a phone number or a email address, you can be easily found and be added to an old peers' group. The social media has in fact magnified this fear as we are now thoroughly exposed to one another.
I am not an expert in psychology, but I have personally struggled with the above situation, and thought it will be good if I can share some ways in which I have dealt with it.
Stop comparing one single area of our lives
There is a tendency for us to compare an area of our lives in which we are weaker while others are more successful. I wouldn't and shouldn't consider myself a failure in life. I have a happy family with my wonderful wife and children. My career is quite alright, and I have no issues supporting the whole family with a fairly comfortable life. But as a social being, I cannot help but compare my career with my more successful old peers. Some have already borne the titles of director, chairman, professor, etc, while I am still around the level of a junior manager. Because of this kind of comparison, I am making my life miserable, and totally ignore the value of a happy family. This is a mistake I have learned. It is very hard to be successful in all areas of your life with limited time, energy and opportunities. You could have made a conscious decision in the past to focus in a particular area of your life. So why just look at an old peer's area of success and focus so much upon it?
Stop comparing at all
Yes, not only you should not compare a particular area of our lives to others, you should not even compare in the first place. These people are your old friends, and you should just treat them as that. They are not there as yardsticks to measure your success in life.
They are friends that can help you
Yes not only should you stop comparing, your should treat them as "Allies". As mentioned above, these are friends whom you will probably trust. You never know someday they can be there to help you, or you may be in a position to help them.
Past Performance Is Not an Indication of Future Results
Doesn't this sound like a financial advice? This is in fact a key struggle for me. I was a top student in top schools with top results. However, I am way behind in career than some old peers who have done worse than me in school. This has always been a very very sore point I find it very hard to struggle with. But I have to recognize that these friends have probably struggled with blood and sweat to reach where they are now.
Wake up call?
What if you really really can't help but feel that you are really really weak in an area of your life compared to your old peers? This could contradict with some of my points above, but sometimes it could be a genuine case that you have really not put enough effort into a particular area of your life. If it is career, may be it's a wake up call to upgrade yourself? If you have the largest beer belly among your old peers, may be it's time to diet, exercise and cut down on beer (just kidding)? This could also serve as a wake up call to readers of this article who are still in their twenties and starting out on their career. Think about 10 to 20 years later when you are in your forties and meeting up with old classmates. If you want to be perceived as successful in your career, there are no two ways about it except to work with blood and sweat and seizing opportunities as they come along. So if you really must compare, do it positively, and view your successful peers as role models instead of someone there to put you down.
Alright, my cute little kids have already waken up and are "begging" me to play with them. I shall continue this in another time ... hope that the above points will be useful to those who are facing the similar struggles.