Life is not a Buffet

I’ve been meaning to share this for a long, long time but I never manage to remember so here we are. One of the sites I read occasionally is called It’s a site where people ask questions on many different topics and others answer them. The quality of the answers are usually very high.

One of the questions I’d seen was something I hear people around me ask often:

How can I stop thinking other people’s happiness and success is my loss?

when I read one of the answers, it mirrored my personal philosophy so well and articulated it so clearly that I emailed the poster to ask if I can copy the answer here and I was graciously granted the option, so here’s the unedited reply:

I once heard a great analogy on this.

So imagine you go to a party. It opens with a buffet, where the food is spread for everyone across a few tables. The food is plentiful: there are fruit platters spilling with melon and berries, sushi stacked in all shapes and sizes and colors, cuts of meat artfully arranged on rectangular trays, vegetables cut to snacking sizes, salads, cookies, and drinks lined up for duty. But as you casually mill about, you can’t help but attempt to cut ahead of people to reach the platters, trays, and bowls. You overstock your plate with the worry the food will run out, artfully shove people out of the way to get to the sushi before it runs out, and fill your cup up the top with soda in case it’s gone.

The hosts have planned to make sure there is enough food for everyone, but the buffet style meal creates a panic in which we can’t help but believe that other people filling their plates will take away from the portions we can select for ourselves. It’s as if the entire concept of food as we know it will be gone within minutes! We frantically stab the last few chunks of pineapple, drain our glasses so we can top them off again, and refill our salad plates before we’ve finished all the pieces of lettuce. We compete with the other guests – despite our friendly conversation – to ensure we get the portion we deserve.

When the buffet is over, the event continues – perhaps with a speaker, a performance etc. When it’s time for dessert, waiters come around with individual plates for each guest. The same people who were elbowing to get to the front of the buffet table before their friends now elegantly say, “please, you take the first portion. I can wait.”

Where has the worry and panic and hurry gone? Why is everyone so patient and generous all of the sudden?

Because it is much more clear that there is a plate reserved for everyone. If the hosts informed the caterer that 208 people are coming, there are 208 plates waiting in the kitchen – there is definitely one for me, so I’m happy for you to get first. I’m feeling magnanimous. I feel secure in the knowledge of the portion I will receive, and there is no frantic competition between us.

We have to understand something about life: Life is not a buffet. It’s served up on individual plates for each of us. When we come to recognize this, our friends’ successes and victories and possessions will not faze us. We know that we can work for whatever we want, and what our friends work for does not affect what is coming to us. If the guy you want lands up with a different girl, he’s not the guy for you! If someone else got the promotion you wanted – it wasn’t meant for you. Work a little harder, and if you deserve it, you will get your own promotion.

In recognizing that there are portions of happiness, wealth, and success in reserve for each of us, we would be much less resentful of others’ success, and lead more secure, happier, satisfied lives.

Isn’t it magnificent? I am a firm believer that the only person you should compete with is yourself. Each day, the only question to ask is “how can I be a better version of myself?” within your own definition of “better”. And you need to remember that there’s always, always enough to go around for every single one of us.

Once I remember that, all I focus on is my individual plate.

7 comments to Life is not a Buffet

  • Karen Halter

    Love, love, love this post! Thank you for taking the time to ask permission to publish this so we could enjoy!

  • Cheryl

    So well said. Brilliant.

  • Su

    So true. But I’m not sure if competition with oneself is an appropriate corollary, for it can foment a deep-rooted unhappiness no matter what one is able to achieve. It is a rare ability to be content without slipping into stagnation. To be at peace with oneself and, at the same time, follow one’s hunger for personal growth. I wish I could find that place of balance.

  • sheri

    This is a wonderful post. May I share this with my co-workers?

  • Christine

    Love this post. I think my faith contributes to my belief in this philosophy as well. We limit ourselves. God has endless abundance for all. (Abundance though does not equal money)

  • Zewa

    Thank you – I am a firm believer , that you should start a work related blog… This message hit home so well.

  • Rachel M

    Wow! What an analogy. This has kept me thinking for some time, trying to determine how this mindset shift can be applied to other “life frustrations.” Thanks for sharing

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