Stop Comparing Yourself

As a kid, did you ever hear a parent say, “Why can’t you be like your brother?” … “Your cousin, Katie, can ride a two-wheeler and she’s only six years old. Why can’t you?”

Now that you’re grown, have you ever found yourself doing that to others? At your workplace, you may have a great co-worker, and another one who’s not so great. And you compare them. One’s smarter, the other one is less smart. One is more of a go-getter, the other one is “lazy”. One is “book smart” but has no common sense. The other one can hardly read, but rarely makes a stupid mistake. Life is so strange.

Have you compared yourself to others? Be honest. Of course you have. When you did that, did you conclude that you’re better or worse off than the others?

This is a natural tendency. It’s something we’re taught to do even before we can talk and think. Mommy asks us to choose between mashed peas and mashed carrots or mashed up meat in baby food. We say yes to one, no to the other. One is better, the other is worse. I like these socks, I hate those socks. I love math, I hate spelling. This is how we learn to figure life out. And it’s an important thinking tool, this capacity to compare and contrast.

But, not so fast. When we apply this thinking habit to all of our life experiences, we can create stress for ourselves.

I’m not an addictions specialist, but I’ve worked with lots of people who’ve participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous. One of their sayings (they have lots of sayings) is “compare and despair”. This is an important message, because the tendency of addicts is to compare the quality and length of their recovery to that of the other people they see at their meetings.

Actually, the same is true of any endeavor in which the stakes are high. The greater the cost of failure, the more likely we are to worry about how we’re doing, and to measure our progress against the progress of the other person.

And there’s a problem with that. No matter how you come out – superior or inferior to the other person – you’ll never be happy. Because, as a musician friend of mine told me (and he was an alcoholic, by the way), “No matter how much you practice, there’s someone out there who’s practicing more than you do.” No matter how well you’re doing, someone, somewhere has more stuff, has achieved more, is more respected, more loved, more admired. You’ll never catch up.

There must be a better way! And in fact there is. But I’m not telling. Stay tuned. There’s more.