A friend of mine, Karen*, is one of those people who seems to have it all.  She graduated at the top of her MBA class.  She holds a high level job at a prestigious Fortune 500 company.  She maintains a rigorous exercise regimen, a reminder of her collegiate rowing days.  She’s happily married and had a child about a year ago.  There’s not much in life that Karen doesn’t do well.

Except, she doesn’t feel that she’s doing well.  It’s not that Karen does not enjoy her life.  Quite the opposite: she loves all the elements of her life.  She struggles with work-life balance, something which I relate to being a new mother myself.  She recently read an article in a sports magazine about five women who have serious careers, are committed to their families, and are going semi-pro in their chosen athletic field.  Compared to them, she feels that she is “a big fat arse.”

It’s very easy to compare ourselves to others in order to gauge our own lives.  Like Karen, I often find myself looking at how other parents juggle their careers, family commitments, and passions.  Then I get nervous that I’m doing something wrong.  It’s times like these that I have to force myself to stop the comparisons, for several good reasons:

If you often find yourself lacking, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Constantly judging your achievements against successful superstars often leads to low self-esteem.  In life, there is always going to be someone subjectively “doing better” than you, and if you judge yourself by those standards, you’re never going to feel good about yourself.  This can lead into a downward spiral of giving up on goals because you feel you can never measure up.

If you usually feel superior to others, you’re ignoring areas that you could improve on.

You might think that comparing yourself to people who are “beneath you” will help you achieve goals.  While it may help your self-esteem, people who belittle others often become too egotistical.  I’ve seen this played out again and again with start-up video game companies.  Whenever faced with genuine criticism of their games – whether that be from customers or developer peers – they lash out that people just “don’t understand the vision” of their game.  In the same breath, they don’t understand why their game doesn’t sell.  In order to improve in a skill, you have to be able to take critical feedback and turn it into something you can use to improve yourself.  This gets lost if you think you’re better than everyone else.

Comparisons don’t take into account our differences.

Ultimately, comparisons generally don’t take into account the many differences individuals may encounter.  First, the successfu” person is often portrayed as an overnight sensation when, in fact, this almost never happens.  Successful people work hard, and their setbacks are rarely celebrated.  This makes the successful person appear lucky when they are not.  Second, there are no true one-to-one comparisons.  People will encounter different obstacles on their path to success, and you can’t truly judge your own worth by looking at someone leading a completely different life than your own.

The only real measurement of success is yours.

Ultimately, success isn’t about someone else’s life.  It’s about your life and your outlook about it.  For example, let’s say you are an aspiring children’s author, and your book gets picked up by a local press.  That, in turn, gets you more writing gigs and you eventually make a decent living in your region.  If you compared your body of work to Dr. Seuss in terms of profitability and fame, you would appear wanting.  But making any living out of writing children’s books is nothing to sneeze at.  Letting go of comparisons can help you define success for yourself.

If I were to compare myself to Karen, she would blow me out of the water in many ways.  Since the day we graduated together, she has gone on to have a more high profile career.  She always has and still does run circles around my modest exercise routine.  And she’s managed to do this while having a family.  But my life is not hers, and I would not want to compare myself to her.  We have found our own paths, each with its own merits.  I’m happy for her, and I hope by sharing this article, she can become a little happier about her life without all the comparisons.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the person.

Photo by Ffion Atkinson

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is the Director of Educational Outreach for Spotkin, an educational games company that marries fun with learning.  She’s also the founder of Avalon Labs, which provides marketing consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses.   She carves out a significant portion of her time to raising her two younger daughters.

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