One of Compete Every Day’s most popular Instagram graphics in 2015 read: “If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.” I reposted it and wrote a caption detailing my own issues of competing with others instead of focusing on competing with myself. It’s a struggle. But it’s natural. Comparison is a social skill we learn at an early age. When a friend tells you a story you automatically brainstorm on how you can relate. Your dog did the cutest thing the other day? That reminds me of when my dog did xyz! It’s called a conversation. You listen, you relate, you bring up supporting stories, and the conversation moves forward. So naturally, we notice how we relate to others. And we notice how we don’t relate.
In comes that awkward moment in a conversation when you realize you don’t have much in common, and you’re like… “yeah, so the weather has been crazy for January in Texas.” Sometimes it’s an innocent difference of opinion. Or there might be generational differences. Or they start describing their life’s accomplishments and you’re like, “Whiskey-tango-foxtrot? How are you so successful and I’ve barely scratched the surface?”
Sometimes it frustrates us to see an acquaintance (or friend or family member, we still love them, but it’s true) propel forward faster than we do; especially when we feel we are putting in the same or more effort than they have seemingly put forth. The more you think you know someone, the greater the amount of confusion that arises as you sift through every detail of your stories and compare each side by side.
Admittedly, social comparisons are a tad different than achievement comparisons. But the human instinct to socialize is where both types of comparisons are born. When I compare myself to another in a social setting, it is (normally) a positive experience. I listen, little light bulbs go off, and when it’s my turn to speak I get to explain all of the reasons why I am similar to my conversational counterpart. And that’s why we’re friends! The weight of the comparison is in the growth of our relationship and my validity as a “socially normal” human being.
When I compare myself with others via achievements the process gets dicey quickly. Little red flags start-a-waving when a friend tells me they lost ten pounds in two weeks because their story doesn’t quite match with my own months-long struggle to drop five pesky pounds. Is she not eating? Does she workout every day, all day? Does she have the fastest metabolism in the history of metabolisms? In other words, a lopsided effort to achievement ratio is easy to spot and difficult to roll past. Generally my solution is to either decide that I am not putting in enough effort myself, or my friend is one lucky SOB regarding their success.
We all want to be successful and we all have an innate reaction to compare. The catch 22 of comparisons and success is that as long as you linger in comparison, you will never recognize your own success.
Could it be that you ARE a success, but you are just too busy attempting to compare yourself to others—even though you can’t accurately do so? Yes. That is totally possible. Or could it be that you are actually dragging yourself down by focusing on someone else’s path and turning a blind-eye to your own needs and skill set? Yep. That’s possible too.
Comparison is a crippling issue in the world of goals. Comparison is a must in social circles. So while we can’t drop the human desire to relate to others, we can recognize when comparison is a positive experience and when it is negative. Blossoming friendships and mentorships via common grounds = positive. Confusion, guilt, frustration, longing, etc. via recognition of seemingly similar paths = negative. When you fall into the black hole of achievement-based comparison, refocus on yourself. When you are in the depths of comparison, you cannot enjoy the light of success. Focus on the light that is within you and you will be a success.