Since we were kids we’ve been comparing ourselves to those around us. We have a great lunch, but the kid sitting next to us has a better lunch. We have nice clothes, but the kid next door has better clothes. We have a great backpack, but the kid across the aisle on the bus has a backpack just a little nicer than ours. It never seemed to matter what we had — someone always had something better.
Even though we were told to never compare ourselves to others, I suppose nothing has changed since we’ve become adults. We have a great car, but the guy in the next office has a better car. We have a nice house, but the boss has a nicer house. We have a good paying job, but our friend has a great paying job. Like it was when we were children, it never seems to matter what we have — someone always has something better.
I was having a conversation with a friend last week about how we fall into the habit of constantly comparing ourselves to others. He shared a great quote that read, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Immediately I began thinking of examples where I felt inferior to others around me because they were so much more accomplished than me. If we’re not careful, we can allow the comparison of apples (our beginning) to oranges (someone else’s middle) to make us believe we’ll never be good enough.
There are so many valid reasons why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. At the same time, a healthy comparison of our beginning to someone else’s middle can serve as the motivation to take us to a new level. Before I entered the speaking profession, I remember sitting in an audience watching an accomplished speaker delivering a presentation and thinking to myself, “I can do that.” In fact, like any driven and confident person, I probably thought I could do it better! I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to speak better than the speaker I saw that day, but I do know I used a comparison of my beginning to his middle to inspire me to pursue my passion. In this case I was absolutely comparing apples to oranges, but I realized what I was seeing and used it as motivation to take me to a new level.
We can be told our entire life to never compare ourselves to others, but every person reading this blog has compared himself/herself to someone today. As you compare yourself to those around you, keep these things in mind:
Most people only share the good stuff in their lives
I love reading about the exciting events in people’s lives through social media. When our friends and colleagues only share what is working well, it can seem they have no challenges in their lives. They do. I don’t need to read about their problems on Facebook to know they exist. My hope is they’re sharing their challenges with those closest to them and not plastering their Facebook page for all their friends to see. As you compare yourself to someone, know you are watching their highlight reel. If you like their highlight reel, it is okay to want to live a similar life … just don’t ever believe anyone is living a life free from challenges.
We all have gifts that make us who we are
If I want to improve my skills related to a gift I have, I am going to find someone who is succeeding and make comparisons. However, I’m not going to compare myself to others wishing I had a skill that is not my gift. I would love to sing like George Strait and be seen as an icon in an industry, but singing is not the gift God gave me. You will never find me comparing myself to someone wishing I was something or somebody I was never intended to be. However, I will find the best professional speakers in the world and constantly compare myself to them in an effort to inspire me to be the best I can be.
We should never copy someone’s brilliance
Don’t ever use comparison as a way to copy someone else’s brilliance. There is only one you, and no one in the world is more qualified to be a better you than you. No matter how you see yourself through a comparison, keep your focus on improvement — never on replicating someone else’s success or uniqueness.
We should always be thankful for what we have
Use comparison as a way to improve and work for what you want to be in this life, but don’t ever stop appreciating what you have. I always want to be better — a better speaker, a better friend, a better husband, a better Christian. The pursuit of being better never stops, but I give thanks every day for the gifts I’ve been given and the person I’ve become.
Some of my favorite quotes came from Theodore Roosevelt. Seldom do I see a quote where he got it wrong, but he did just that when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I suppose he could be right if the result of comparison is disappointment. I suppose he could be right if the result of comparison is that someone feels they’ll never be good enough. I suppose he could be right if the result of comparison is a loss of self-confidence.
But if you choose to use comparison to push you to new heights, Mr. Roosevelt is wrong. If you choose to use comparison as a measurement of progress to inspire you, Mr. Roosevelt is wrong. And if you use comparison as a way to build your confidence right where you are today, Mr. Roosevelt is wrong. Perhaps his quote would have been more accurate if he’d made this simple change, “Comparison can be the thief of joy.” Then again, he didn’t call and ask my opinion — which would have been tricky since he died 48 years before I was born. Since I’m a fan of many of his quotes, I’m sure he won’t mind me making a little tweak to this one!
The bottom line is this. Comparison can work for us or against us. It can bring you down and hold you back if you let it. Or, it can lift you up and push you forward if you let it. Like everything else in life, it comes down to choice. Take a minute and think about whether you’re allowing comparison to lift you up or bring you down. Remember, it’s a matter of choice. Choose well.
© 2015 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit www.verbalocity.com, or contact him directly firstname.lastname@example.org.