Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Life is Not a Competition.

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Albert Einstein

Stop scrolling LinkedIn and comparing your career with others.

Stop scrolling Facebook and comparing your social life with others.

Stop scrolling Instagram and comparing your travel adventures with others.

Stop scrolling Twitter and comparing your popularity with others.

Stop scrolling Strava and comparing your athleticism with others.

Here’s the honest truth:

Someone will always be better than you.  
  • More intelligent
  • More athletic
  • More powerful
  • More successful
  • More popular
  • More wealthy
  • More attractive

The irony?

Someone will always be less than you.
  • Less intelligent
  • Less athletic
  • Less powerful
  • Less successful
  • Less popular
  • Less wealthy
  • Less attractive
“Don’t compare your life to others. There’s no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it’s their time.”

In the age of social media, we are bombarded with displays of accomplishment, triumph and celebration, and comparing yourself to others is faster, easier and more prolific.

Look who just got engaged on a secluded beach in paradise.

Look who just had another adorable baby.

Look who just landed their dream job with a great company.

Look who just bought a beautiful house in the perfect neighborhood.

Look who just came back from a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.

Look who just lost 30 lbs and has a six pack.

What about you? What have you done lately?

Look at all of the exciting and wonderful things everyone else is doing while you’re sitting around, eating potato chips, and burning your fingertips scrolling social media all day.

Social Comparison Theory was first proposed in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger, who suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves based on comparison with others, whether it’s looks, talents, possessions and more. There are two kinds of social comparison:

1. Upward Social Comparisons are when we compare ourselves to others who we think are better than we are. Have you ever noticed that comparing yourself to others makes you feel jealous, envious or resentful? Anxious, lonely or depressed?

2. Downward Social Comparisons are when we compare ourselves to others who we think aren’t as good as we are. Have you ever noticed that comparing yourself to others makes you feel confident, proud or satisfied? Superior, smug or arrogant?  

“You’ll either think yourself worse than someone else, or better than someone else. Neither of these is good. Stop comparing.” “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not his neighbor.”
Rick Warren

Making comparisons is easier than ever these days because information is available at our fingertips 24/7. Not only does it flow from friends, family, colleagues and associates, but from strangers we’ve never met because people broadcast their lives publicly for all the world to see. Jobs, clothing, cars, relationships, physiques, children, vacations, etc. – the possibilities for comparison are endless.

And if the news itself wasn’t enough, you know what happens next; attention and reaction from the peanut gallery. Both quantitatively, by the number of reactions or likes, and qualitatively, by descriptive comments of praise or congratulations. Not only do social media platforms give us the opportunity to compare our lives with others, but they give us the opportunity to compare the extent and magnitude of the reaction we receive, which has the power to add or subtract from our perceived value of the accomplishment.

Imagine this scenario: You spent the last year running 5x per week with dreams of finishing your first marathon. Finally, your hard work pays off and you cross the finish line after running 26.2 miles in the NYC Marathon. But wait a second. Did the accomplishment really happen if you didn’t post it on social media? So you post a picture with your marathon medal for everyone to see, receiving 40 likes and 12 comments. You feel like you’re on top of the world.

Suddenly, elation turns sour as displeasure and discontent set in because shortly after your post, you notice a friend’s post that shows a picture of them crossing the Ironman finish line after 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running, which generates 100 likes and 25 comments. Suddenly, your accomplishment isn’t so grand anymore, is it? Now, instead of feeling happy and cheerful, you feel lousy and bitter because you compared your accomplishment with your friend’s. How quickly emotions change when you use someone else’s goals as a benchmark for your own success and fulfillment.

Comparison kills the joy of achievement.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Though, comparing yourself to others isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the energy is channeled properly, it can serve as a driving force that helps you work harder and strive higher. If you see others as acts of inspiration instead of adversaries, you can learn and be motivated by them and put yourself in a better position to accomplish your own hopes, goals and dreams. With proper perspective, you will appreciate people who are doing bigger, better or different things. It’s well known that athletes thrive off competition and use it to bring out the best in each other. At the same token, recognizing that your abilities are above someone else’s can deliver a boost to your confidence and self-esteem, but too much may lead to arrogance or conceit.  

“Comparison is the thief of Joy.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Unfortunately, comparisons are more often than not, destructive and damaging. Often people use them as evaluation tools to validate or reject their own success and self-worth. It’s human nature. At its worst, it can lead to jealousy or envy and has the potential to damage relationships, when instead of celebrating someone else’s success you resent it. Admit it - you can’t help, but look at your friend’s quick rise to success and fortune, without feeling some envy.

Comparisons usually negatively impact our emotional health and wellbeing. They make us feel small, insecure, inadequate and unhappy because there is always someone better out there. Instead of focusing and working on what we can control, we see ourselves as failures and let self-pity obstruct our drive to succeed and change who we are today into something better tomorrow. Unfortunately, there are no boundaries or limits to what or who you can compare yourself to and our society loves to measure success based on the accomplishments of others.

The more you focus on other people, the more you begin to question your own path, decisions and state of affairs. As a result, your confidence is compromised and those stepping stones that lead to your goals turn into mountains. A domino effect ensues as you focus on everything going wrong in your life instead of everything that’s right. You focus on the impossible instead of the possible. You see the glass half empty instead of half full. Inadequacy, self-doubt and frustration set in because when we so desperately want what other people have. Sadly, if you’re spending most of your day looking at other people lives you’re not really living your own.

A study in Denmark found that people who quit Facebook experience an immediate boost in life satisfaction and positive emotions.

Not only is it foolish and trivial to compare yourself with others, it’s practically impossible.

Here’s why:

1. Unequal Conditions

No two set of environments or circumstances are exactly alike. There are too many uncontrollable and exogenous variables at play. Essentially, it’s not an even playing field.

Josh works in the front office at a global bank and I work in the back office at a local bank.

Yeah, but he has a family connection with the Chief Investment Officer who helped get him in the door.  

2. Age is Relative

Chronological age is not the same as life stage. You can’t compare yourself to people your age if you are at a different life stage and vice versa.    

Samantha has a family and owns a beautiful house, while I am single and renting a tiny studio.  

Yeah, but she was working and saving up for a down payment, while you were completing your military service and attending graduate school.

3. It’s Curated

Most people hand select the good things about their life and conceal the negative. What you see is a narrow and distorted picture of a person’s life. For every positive revelation, each person has a struggle that you don’t know about.

Allen just came back from another amazing trip to Bali, while I spent my vacation down the Jersey Shore.

Yeah, but he has $10,000 in credit card debt and you are saving for your kid’s education.

4. Best vs. Worst

While it’s usually unintentional, we typically compare other peoples’ best against our worst. We see someone’s best and instinctively measure it against ourselves, even though it may not be our strength.  

Julie just finished her 5th marathon and I can barely finish a 5K.  

Yeah, but Julie is single and belongs to a running club in her spare time, while you have a boyfriend and volunteer for a nonprofit organization in your free time.

5. Measuring Success

Success is a subjective word. Every person has a different measurement and definition of success. It could mean wealth, status and power for one person versus independence, time, and relationships for another person. One thing is for certain – it shouldn’t be measured based on what other people think.

Josh is more successful than me because he wears expensive suits and drives fancy cars.  

Yeah, but he works 80 hours per week and is lonely, while you have a work-life balance and spend time with your family.

6. Hidden Feelings

We only know what we see, but what really matters is what’s inside – our internal emotions and feelings. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Caitlin is extremely popular and has a ton of friends -- she’s so happy.

No, actually it’s just a façade and in private she is depressed because most of her friends are superficial, while you have a small circle of friends that are authentic and loyal.

7. Opportunity and Luck

Of course talent and hard work matter, but a number of studies and books have suggested that luck and opportunity play a far greater role than skill, hard work and motivation in determining success in life.

Joe is the CFO of a large public company and I am only a financial analyst at a small private company.   

Yeah, but his boss was a great mentor and set him up for succession, while you’re lucky if your boss even greets you hello.    

8. Missing Information

We only see the finished product. We don’t see the beginning or middle. The bad moments, emotional breakdowns and failures. The thousands of hours spent preparing and working towards the achievement. You can’t compare your beginning or middle to someone else’s end.

Samantha is such a talented artist and I can hardly paint by number.

Yeah, but she has been painting every day for the last three years, while you just started painting every weekend for the last three months.

“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.”
Shannon L. Alder

You have to accept that people will be different than you. Different. Not “better” than you. Not “less” than you. No one is better than you and no one is less than you.

We are all born with the same level of dignity, value and human worth and we all develop at a different rate – socially, mentally and physically. Your journey will never be the same as someone else’s. There is no rule that says you have to be married by 25 and have three kids by 30, or a Vice President at your company by age 40. Do not let the influences of the outside world dictate what you should be doing with your life or the pace at which you’re doing it. The only thing you should be concerned with is being a better person than you were yesterday. Stop focusing on what you can’t control (others) and focus on what you can control (yourself).

“Never worry about the delay of your success compared to others, because construction of a palace take more time than an ordinary building.”

If you find yourself making comparisons with other people, don’t beat yourself up over it or feel guilty or ashamed. It’s a completely natural and common human tendency that is in your DNA. Our early ancestors used comparisons to make assessments of what other people were thinking. It takes strong self-awareness to acknowledge when it happens and to have the willpower to do something about it.

Easier said than done. From an early age we are pressured into comparing ourselves with our peers. We measure ourselves against what others do and what they have. The first kid on the block to ride their bike without training wheels, the student who consistently receives A’s, the boy who scores all the goals in soccer, the girl who plays the piano like a pro and so on. It never ends. And just when we succeed in outdoing our classmates, someone else comes along and stomps on our parade.

 “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

As adults, social comparison continues and often leads to problems in the workplace, such as:

1. Frenemies

Intense competition in the workplace for promotions and advancement may strain professional relationships. People act congenial and give best wishes to their coworkers, but in reality not all of them are rooting for their peers to succeed because they have a Win-Lose attitude and see others as competitors and adversaries instead of colleagues and friends.

2. Knowledge Sharing

When people feel threatened by the success of others, they may conceal knowledge, information and resources because it’s seen as a personal, competitive advantage. They use it as leverage and power over their colleagues. When this happens, everyone loses.  

3. Drama and Gossip

When people are focused on others instead of themselves, they are more likely to engage in office politics. The consequences are severe, as this often leads to a toxic work environment, including a gradual decline of trust and morale, lower productivity, divisiveness and even backstabbing. 

4. Stress and Anxiety

When you compare yourself to others in the workplace and worry about their performance relative to your own, it leads to stress and anxiety, which has the potential to lower productivity and increase risk for errors from a lack of focus.

5. Envy, Jealousy and Resentment

The potential for envy, jealously and resentment occurs when people desire what their colleagues have, such as promotion, recognition and exciting projects or work assignments. Like it or not, favoritism plays out in most offices, both big and small. In fact, a survey by Georgetown University found that 82% of senior business executives have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions. When people are given opportunities without real merit, there are serious consequences to the work environment, which raises the possibility for conflict.   

"Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself."
Coco Chanel

No matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing with your life, it's never good enough. Want proof? Just turn on the TV and watch as advertisers sell you on reasons why you need their products or services so that you can measure up to everyone else. Every day we are bombarded with images of the unattainable. You feel great about your body until you scroll Instagram and realize you’re a far cry from winning a beauty contest. There are magic pills for weight loss, relationships, career success and more. As a result, we are constantly questioning our self-worth, self-image and self-esteem.      

When you are constantly focusing on everyone else, you ignore what really matters and what you can control, yourself. There is a difference between wanting to be better and wanting to be better than someone else. Reject any notion that you need external proof of your own self-worth. The only person you should compare yourself to is you. Comparing yourself to others is a distraction and a waste of valuable time. Your energy is better served by improving yourself.

 “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

All the material items and followers in the world mean nothing if someone is unhappy, lonely and unfulfilled. Not to mention exhausted from trying to keep up their image. Remember that you never have all the details about someone’s life and do not know what is going on behind the scenes. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the person who appears to have the most is the least happy, while the person who appears to have the least is the most happy?  

Solutions to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

1. Practice Self-awareness

It takes a strong degree of self-awareness to recognize when you are comparing yourself to others and to have the courage to do something about it. Social comparison often happens sub-consciously and instinctively. Make a concerted effort to catch yourself when it does and identify the triggers that prompted it in the first place. Mindlessly scrolling social media is the biggest trigger for most of us, but it’s also prompted by other means, such as contact with certain individuals and activities like walking or driving through an expensive shopping district or neighborhood. 

2. Show Gratitude

Remember, appreciate and show gratitude for all of the good in your life and you’ll be less vulnerable to comparison and envy. For example, make it a habit to write down three things that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. People who regularly practice gratitude by appreciating and reflecting on things they’re thankful for experience increased well-being, happiness and satisfaction.

3. Create Goals

Quit using your peers as a benchmark for success. That’s a recipe for failure and disappointment. We all have unique needs, values, interests and goals. Set short, medium and long term SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals that are particular to your own individual aspirations. Successful people are constantly changing, growing and learning new things to improve themselves. Do not settle for the status quo. You are never too old or not talented enough.

4. Exercise Self-reflection

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. As long as you have specific goals, you can compare where you are today to where you were when you set them to monitor your progress. Where are you today compared to yesterday? Last week? Last month? Last year? Progress is progress no matter how slow or small. Keep pushing forward. Never give up.

5. Know your Strengths

You are successful because of who you are, not who you aren’t. Stop focusing on your weaknesses and start focusing on your strengths. That’s what makes you unique, different and valuable. People who focus on their strengths are proven to be happier, less stressed, confident and more satisfied.

6. Enjoy the Journey

We each have our own unique journey. Love your past, present and future. Be proud of your achievements and triumphs, however large or small. Find your passion and purpose in life. Learn from past mistakes and successes, practice continuous self-improvement and pursue your goals – not the goals of someone else or what society is currently glorifying.  

7. Swap Comparison for Inspiration

Instead of feeling jealous, inferior, threatened or demotivated by others, feel inspired and be happy for their success and achievements. Live your life with the belief that there is always something you can learn from others. If your colleague got the promotion and you didn’t, take an internal audit and determine ways you can set yourself up for success the next time around.

8. Have a Win-Win Attitude

Rid yourself of a winner-takes-all mentality. A win-win attitude will create mutually beneficial relationships built on strong trust. Life isn’t a zero sum game. Happiness is not a limited resource. Someone else’s happiness and success doesn’t mean that your life is less valuable or important.

9. Log off

The next time you are on social media, take an inventory to see how it makes you feel. Disconnect, limit your use or unfollow people that illicit negative emotions or Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). It’s increasingly becoming a place that people use to grow and market their own personal brand. It’s unhealthy when you obsess over it daily and wastes precious time that you can be dedicating to what you can control – your own life.

10. Love Yourself

There are more than 7 billion people in the world and only one you. You are important, original and unique. Recognize your own self-worth and be grateful for what you have. Accept your flaws and imperfections with honor and grace. Someone else doesn’t have to fail for you to succeed and vice versa. Do not define your value by comparing yourself to others. Realize that no one has a perfect life and that what you see on social media is like watching a fake reality TV show. Be confident and proud of who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done and the direction you’re going. When you’re happy with your own life, you care less about what everyone else is doing and focus on what matters.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

Life is not a script. Social media has become everyone’s personal highlight real - a distorted, hyperbolical and utopian portrayal of their existence. Remember, all that glitters is not gold.

Life is not a popularity contest. You don’t get a prize for the most likes, comments or retweets and the amount of engagement you receive is not going to validate how amazing, exciting or successful your life is. 

Life is not a spectator sport. Stop sitting on the sidelines and watching things happen. Get in the game and make things happen.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. You only get one shot. There are no second chances. Don’t waste your most precious commodity, time. Stop putting off your dreams and waiting for the perfect time. The right time is right now.

Life is not perfect. Don’t let fear of failure or embarrassment hold you back. Get outside of your comfort zone. You need to take risks and chances to live life to the fullest. When you fall down, learn from your mistakes and bounce back stronger.  

Life is not a scientific study. There is no control group. We are all different. Raised by different parents, brought up in different communities, gifted with different talents, personal advantages and personal disadvantages.

Life is not a competition. There are no winners or losers. Your success, value and self-worth isn’t relative to someone else’s. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.

A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.
 Zen Shin

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