We’ve all witnessed an exasperated parent loudly scold their child in a public setting screaming, “Why can’t you just behave nicely like your brother?” In elementary school, the wrinkly, past-retirement-age teacher beams at Carol and tells everyone how proud she is that her star pupil got an A+ while everyone else didn’t. She admonishes the children to be more like Carol. During gym class in middle school, Tony is able to easily complete 20 pull-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks faster than everyone else. The overweight failed athlete gym teacher growls, “The rest of you wimps should be able to do that too!”
From an early age, we are pressured into comparing ourselves to others. Our success and self-worth rises and falls relative to someone else. We aren’t taught to compare ourselves today to who we were yesterday. The benchmark is against some other random person. This invariably leads to low self-esteem, jealousy, envy and disappointment. No matter where you are in your career, there will always be someone who looks like they are more successful, wealthier and happier.
Our society seems rigged to make us feel bad about ourselves. Television and internet ads bombard us with commercials reinforcing our internal insecurities—and how by buying their products and services, you will finally become somebody of importance. Facebook and Instagram show fantasy lives of big beautiful homes, expensive sports cars and luxury vacations.
You can’t help but look at your college friends and secretly envy their success. While you’re happy for a sibling’s quick route to riches, there’s a twinge of jealousy. Everyday you hear or read about someone who achieved wealth and fame. The constant questions of how they got to where they are and why you are where you are wear you down. A promotion at work felt wonderful until you heard about a childhood friend who is now the CEO of a tech company that just went public. This puts you into a funk for the rest of the week.
It never ends. There is always someone out there who seems to have more money, a better job and is living the life that you feel you should have. It eats away at you and you can’t help feeling bad about yourself and your career decisions.
This happens to all of us, but many won’t admit it. You need to stop comparing yourself to others; otherwise, you’ll never be truly happy. The only person that you should compare yourself to is the person that you were the day before.
This week it was widely reported that a large number of wealthy business people, lawyers, hedge fund managers and actors allegedly paid six-figure sums to shady characters to get their precious children into top Ivy League and prestigious universities. The allegations reflect that the helicopter and bulldozer parents will stop at nothing to ensure that their children will have the status of a top university on their résumé. It seems that the kids didn’t really care about it, but the parents were the perpetrators. They took chances of making bribes, lying and cheating with the risk of being arrested just so that they could add their child’s school into their equation when comparing themselves to other wealthy families.
Here’s how to stop comparing yourself to others and start focusing on yourself:
- Be cognizant of when you start comparing yourself to others.
When you start looking at others, pay attention to the circumstances. Do you notice a certain pattern? It could be that you have a friend or colleague who constantly brags about his accomplishments: the corner office, fancy title, big bonus checks and promotions. Are you following people on Facebook and Instagram that showcase and flaunt their amazing lives?
When you notice this happening, you need to extricate yourself from the situation. There is no reason to subject yourself to a blow hard who is bragging about themselves. Stop following the people online that want to make themselves feel special by making you feel bad.
Avoid these and other triggers. Start adding substitutes, such as positive and uplifting self-help podcasts, books, blogs and articles that will help you learn, become smarter and feel good about yourself.
Keep in mind the lives you covet are not necessarily true; they are a carefully crafted portrait of how they want people to perceive them. You will never really know what’s going on behind the scenes. They may have all the trappings of wealth and success, but lead sad and desperate lives.
- Comparisons are for motivational purposes.
Instead of feeling resentful of someone else’s success, use this energy as motivation. If there is someone in your office who is super successful, invite her out for coffee or a drink. Politely pick her brains to find out how she advanced in her career. Inquire if the person could serve as a mentor and offer you career advice and guidance.
You could seek out successful people and learn from them in other ways too. Read about how top entrepreneurs got their start and what they did to build their companies—if that’s your goal. Follow these figures on Twitter, read articles about them, attend a speech they may be giving and watch when they’re a guest on a podcast. View their success as a road map that you could emulate.
You need to look at the complete picture. If you have five years of corporate experience, it’s not reasonable to compare yourself to the vice president who is much further along in their career. They may have had the good fortune of being born to the right parents who had connections to get them breaks in the early stages of their career. A person could have simply lucked into joining Google or Facebook at the right time or bought Bitcoin as a lark 10 years ago. That doesn’t mean you can’t create your own luck. I’ve noticed that the harder people work the luckier they get. You may end up surpassing those that found quick early success. While they become complacent, you will outhustle and outshine them in the long run.
Use other people’s successes to spur you into action. Be happy for them, as it will free you from feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. Believe that, if they succeed, so can you. I have met many CEOs and top corporate executives that turned out to be regular people and not so special. They do, however, possess the ability to be confident in themselves, not let things get them down, forge forward in their careers and don’t waste their time and energy marveling at what others have accomplished.
Think of all the wonderful things in your life that you should be grateful for. Pile them up and look at the mountain of blessings you have. It’s too easy to forget about all of the fortunate things that you have in your life. If you have your health, family, friends, a good stable job and roof over your head, then you have it better than the vast majority of the rest of the world. Review all of the success you’ve had and all of the bad things that you have avoided. Use this as a base to build upon. Don’t worry about what is in someone else’s wallet. Focus on the being the best version of yourself.