One of the most potentially destructive things a person can do is to compare themselves with others. I say “potentially” because the act of considering the successes, failures and milestones of others to our own experience can provide us insight into what’s important in our own lives.
For example (as these things have been on my mind lately):
Huh. Seems like a lot (maybe 10 that I can think of…) of people my age are purchasing their first homes. Should I focus on doing that? Well, maybe not; I don’t think that’s a good financial decision for me right now because I don’t know if I will be living in this area for at least five years. The people I see on social media who are doing so seem like they will be staying put for a while.
Wow, some of my contacts on my age from school seem to be getting promoted, to management or even director-level positions. Is that something I want? Well, not right now. I enjoy focusing on myself and my customers; approving time cards, providing feedback for performance reviews and everything else involved with managing a team doesn’t sound appealing to me right now.
Of course these reasonable thoughts were not the first to pop into my head upon encountering such news on Facebook and LinkedIn, specifically. Re: people my age purchasing houses, my train of thought went more like this: Oh my god, I have no where near enough money for a down payment and I need more in my emergency fund even if I do have enough for a down payment how is it even possible that these people can afford to buy a house how much did that house cost where did they get the down payment oh my god why did I buy that case of wine last month and why did I go skiing last weekend I should have saved that money for a down payment I’m such a financial disaster.
Or, people my age seeming to get what appeared to be sweet promotions: Oh my god, I’m so behind in my career what is wrong with me I’m never going to be promoted I’m never going to find a good job these people are going to be making so much more than me in a few years when am I ever going to get a job like that what am I even doing with my life right now I’m about to be unemployed.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god always seems to be the introduction to panicked, illogical thoughts.
There are truths and falsehoods in both of those thought hurricanes. But what’s so unproductive and detrimental is that I don’t recognize my own truth – what comes out of a rational thought. And there’s the problem: when we’re comparing ourselves with others in a way that puts ourselves at the deficit, we’re not seeing what’s positive about our own situation.
I recently heard a television writer speak at an event at the local university. Mainly the audience was made up of undergraduate students, and therefore lots of advice on careers and creativity was dispensed. One line from this writer stayed with me, though:
Rather than focusing on what you don’t have to offer, think instead about what you do have going for you.
How great is that?
In the context of comparing yourself to others, think about what’s to your advantage. What are you getting out of life that these other people doing and achieving things you’re not getting? And not in a negative context, not to put others down. What does not owning a home right now afford me? What does not having to manage others enable me to do at work?
I also like this advice in the context of pursuing creative endeavors. What unique experiences do you have? What academic training do you have that makes you different than others, in a good way? Who do you know now?
And don’t just think. Every day, write down something in your life that you’re grateful for. Something you have going for you.
Do this to remind yourself that everyone is on a different path. Everyone has had and will have different life experiences that you have had and will have. And that’s cool, because you have an opportunity to put your experiences and perspectives to use in positive ways. Comparing yourself to other people who seem to be
- More successful
- More creative
- More popular
… than you isn’t a good use of your time. Think instead about what makes you smart, successful, rich (in any definition), creative, a good person. Imagine the ways you can build on your skill set and talents to bring light into the world, to impact others.