4 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

4 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

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.

47 Comments

  1. Deborah,

    Thank You so much for the gentle reminder that we all need to stop those comparisons we do. Reminding us how the better than and less than are just games that our ego plays with us and as you say don’t allow us to reveal the real self, which becomes the true measure of your success.

    Thanks for the reminder to be happy for others rather than compare. Yes, there is so much more to celebrate in others and ourselves when we can just be happy for them and for us, for expressing our unique talents.

    BTW, love Dr. Seuss! I Can Celebrate the Wonderful Wisdom He Gave Us!

    Susan

    Reply
    • Always good to meet a fellow Dr. Seuss fan. Being happy for ourselves is a hard skill, but ultimately a good one for life satisfaction.

      Reply
  2. Good points to consider! The internet makes it even harder, as we constantly read about apparent quick success and riches by even the most nominally skilled (“Just start a blog!!” Right?). There is value in taking time, as is there value in carving your own path.

    Thanks for the encouraging post!

    Reply
    • As another commenter mentioned, it’s very easy to read all the positive aspects about a person and realize that media stories leave out the negative aspects that help a person reach their goals. Better to focus on yourself, which you have more control of the outlook.

      Reply
  3. Deborah, unless we’re superstars this comparisson game will end in misery. Unless that is we chnage the rules.

    You can either pursue an unfashionable lifestyle. You’ll take pride in having the worst car in the car park (the joy is in how much money you’ve saved not keeping up) or holidaying in counter intuitive places that are cheap but interesting.

    Or you can place youself in the right comparisson group. Sometimes it’s useful to have a benchmark but it’s worth picking it with care. For instance compared to super fit cyclists I don’t cycle much. Compared to the avergae man of my age I look like a keep fit fanatic!

    Reply
    • It’s definitely good to be proud of your accomplishments. That helps build self-esteem. I would just caution not to let a comparison be the only basis for your self-worth.

      Reply
  4. Thank you for sharing this Deborah.

    There’s really nothing good that will come out of comparing one’s self to others because this is like living the other person’s life. It is still better to make your own path to success. We are all different from one another and what works with you might not work for me. I’ve learned from my mistakes of trying to compare myself to others after I realized that we have different lives and I don’t have to compete with anyone.

    Great blog post, keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Glad to hear from someone else who has had the same journey as me, Noel. I still fall into this trap time and again, and I have to re-remind myself not to compare.

      Reply
  5. Hi Deborah,

    While reading your story, it already gives impact to myself. I was inspired by the story you shared.
    It’s a good reminder that everyone is unique and should not compare ourselves to other.
    Even if there are times that we feel sad because we cannot get all what we want, it’s a sign that you need to work hard, know more about yourself especially your strengths and do some reflection.

    I also visited your websites and it’s all interesting.

    Thank you very much for sharing.
    More power.

    Sherryl

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing, Sherryl. I hope this helps even a small bit on your own journey.

      Reply
  6. Great post Deborah!

    We are often get into that trap by trying to compare ourselves to others which often set us to a lower standard. We all have a unique talent and gift. Which could even be better than the person that you are comparing yourself to. But sometimes we don’t take times to see ourselves because we are too focus on somebody else’s life. I think if we take times to find our talent, we could be our own success without glancing at somebody else’ success. God put something unique in every single one of us. It’s up to us to find the good use of it.

    Thank you Deborah for the blog…

    Reply
    • I think it’s an excellent point that if you’re always comparing yourself, you will never be able to succeed on your own merits. True entrepreneurship can happen when you allow to wield your own talents.

      Reply
  7. Deborah you are so right. It’s something that has taken me ages to realise and is a vicious spiral, so that you even compare yourself to others with similar problems and feel that they are coping better than you. With magazines I eventually realised that people portray themselves in a positive light (even in negative situations) and you are not necessarily getting the full picture. For a while I just stopped reading about these “super women” who seem to achieve more in a day than I do in a week! Nowadays I’m just pleased for them and hope they inspire others, I however do not feel the need to emulate them.

    Reply
    • The “perfect woman” model is really hard to achieve. And you’re right: the magazines and media never tell the whole story. So trying to attain what is unrealistic can only make you unhappy. Trying to be happy with your own balance is a better strategy in the long run.

      Reply
  8. Dear Deborah,

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.You are spoton in saying that every one is a unique personality and never to be compared to another personality.By the way I was missing your regular posts to The change blog in the recent past?

    Reply
    • Thanks always for reading and commenting. I think I may have skipped a month or two this year, but I generally write an article once a month. As long as Peter keeps accepting my articles, I’ll keep submitting. :) Writing for The Change Blog is a very rewarding experience for me, as it is very different from the other kinds of work I do.

      Reply
  9. That is my biggest problem. I do not feel superior to others but have the opposite problem of feeling like I am beneath others, especially my two highly successful siblings and their spouses. Now I am starting to feel the same way with my older niece and nephew and this causes me to feel disconnected at family gatherings.

    I also compare myself to those who are a lot younger than me and more successful causing me to have very low self esteem which in turn causes me not to move forward. This can make me feel uncomfortable in jobs where my supervisor or other higher level people are younger than me, especially when they have to correct me on tasks or say that they have already shown me a certain task.

    I have to learn not to compare myself to others which of course is easier said than done. Also it is affecting my self esteem and keeping me from moving forward. I have to learn to focus on myself and my accomplishments alone of which I do have many.

    Reply
    • Maida,

      I hear you on the sibling front. I have 5 other highly successful siblings: a medical doctor, a pediatric dentist, an electrical engineer, and two computer scientists. I’m the only one who didn’t decide to do a science-related career, and it’s always been harder for me to find and maintain work. Even before having kids, I made less than them per year by a landslide.

      The thing is, though, that I’ve also got something they don’t have: a more risk-taking personality. My career is full of holes and what-not, but I’m the only sibling who decided to stay at home and be the primary caregiver when I had kids. Two of my sisters has expressed envy at my position (since it would be too much work for them to lose their respective medical licenses to do this and have to re-train to earn them back.) I’ve also done a lot more travel and have more close-knit friends. So on these aspects, by comparison, I come out “ahead.”

      But in the end, it’s not a comparison, at least not with others. I try to compare myself to my own progress. I feel that I’ve done well in the almost 20 years since graduating high school. The job is only one small slice of who I am. There are many things I enjoy that can’t be measured by status or wealth. And some of the personal achievements I hold dear (like running a 5K a few years ago), most people my age would find laughably easy.

      It’s a hard journey not to compare yourself, but I do wish you luck in trying not too. Think instead about all the progress you’ve made. Set goals that are for you alone. And find people who will share in your joy when you reach them, not because you’re better than a bunch of other people, but because you made yourself better.

      Reply
  10. Hello Deborah.
    Hope you are doing fine.
    I neither think myself as inferior nor superior to others. I think everbody has a different life. So, 2 people’s achievements or failures can’t be compared, as their lives are very different from each other.
    This is my story :
    I’m a 2013 graduate in Bachelor of Technology. I’m looking for jobs & I’m at home since April, searching for jobs. You can understand how difficult it is for me to stay positive during this period of my life. You would feel somewhat better if people would motivate you. But, you start to feel very bad when people start to compare you with someone or negate your thoughts by pointing out only your failures & mistakes, & never your good points. You won’t believe that these “people” here are my parents ! Instead of motivating, they just think that I’m not serious enough in my job-search, and that is why I’m not getting a job. So, in most of my conversations with my parents at home, they either scold me hard for any of my mistakes (be it small or huge), or compare me with someone, or both. My engineering branch has a very low chances of job-openings, compared to my friends’, & I’ve told my parents that this is the reason I don’t have a job. But, they don’t undertsand it. I’m so fed up about this that now don’t feel trying to make them understand about it anymore. I just sit there and listen. They don’t know how bad I feel when they talk to me like this. They also obviously don’t know how bad I’m feeling now due to my current unemployed state.
    Please advice on how to stay positive, ispite of all this.

    Reply
    • Prajith,

      First, let me congratulate you on your Bachelors in Technology. Getting any sort of degree requires a level of commitment and hard work that is commendable.

      Second, it is very difficult to feel good about yourself if the people in your support network (like your parents) are pressuring you. You can try to change their perspective by telling them all the work you’re doing looking for a job. If you feel comfortable, you can also tell them that the comparisons only make you feel worse and make the job search more difficult for you. However, it is possible that neither of these things will work. You have no control over how they act, so spending too much time trying to change their behavior will likely only frustrate you more.

      Focus instead on the things you can change. You may need to stay at your parents for financial reasons, but try to minimize your time with them, especially if it’s putting you down. Find time, instead, to be with others who will support you in a positive way: other relatives, friends or classmates. You need people who will lift you up when you are down, and their words of encouragement can help you get past this difficult time in your life.

      There are literally millions of people out there who understand the frustrations of not being able to find a job, so join an online community that will help support you. For example, you could join several LinkedIn groups in your field, which will not only help you network for a job, but you can also ask advice and get constructive supportive feedback from professionals. Get on Twitter and find professionals for advice there. Start getting into conversations where you can so that you can stay connected and just feel better about yourself, even if you can’t find a job right away. You will be amazed how people in these communities sympathize and will help you.

      If you get frustrating just “looking for a job,” do other things that will eventually help get a job, but aren’t directly related to a job search. Do some charity work in your field: maybe you know how to build websites, so offer to help one for a non-profit group. This will not only keep you connected to your field, but will help you build a portfolio of work that you can use later in your job search.

      Then, if you know you’re doing all this work to find a job and your parents start comparing you and putting you down, you can know in your heart that you’re doing a ton of work to find a job. If you need to, write down all the things you’ve accomplished looking for a job: a list of how many resumes you’ve sent out, how many Twitter conversations you’ve started, how many professional articles you’ve read, how much time you’ve spent building your portfolio. If you have this list, you can always read it if you feel overwhelmed by your situation. This is a real measure of your progress, not a comparison to some random classmate that has nothing to do with your life.

      And my final piece of advice: if at any time you feel overwhelmed or depressed, don’t hesitate to talk to a counselor or therapist. I have done this at several points in my life, and it has helped me get through some very hard times. They will always be your advocate and try to help you find other ways to cope with a difficult situation.

      Best of luck to you!

      Deborah

      Reply
      • Thank you very mcuh Deborah for the heads-up. I’ll try to do whatever I can in whatever interests I have. Meanwhile, I would moving to a city to help me refine my job-search with a family-friend who works. I don’t know how to make a website though :) , but I have an interest to make my country “clean-&green”. I’ve decided to find out about such NGOs working for the purpose (& other purposes also off-course like educating children fromvillages, environmental-NGOs, etc..), to give a helping hand to the government in cleaning & improving lives of others. Why should we call ourselves “human” if we can’t even help others in their miseries or in improving their way of live, right ?

        Thank you, again.
        Prajith

        Reply
        • Prajith,

          It sounds like you already have a huge head start on your career: you have a passion that you’re trying to pursue. I think your field is both attainable and noble. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and it is my belief that “green ‘n’ clean” tech is only going to grow in the coming years. I wish you the best of luck on your move and moving forward to what sounds like a promising future.

          Deborah

          Reply
  11. Thanks for sharing this post Deborah. I often compare myself to others but I find it’s helpful to just acknowledge these moments and then move past them.

    Reply
    • That is a very positive way of dealing with it, Bryan. Simply acknowledge and move on.

      Reply
  12. Wise and pragmatic post. Osho says that nature never duplicates itself. No two leaves of a tree are identical if observed closely. Every person is unique in terms of individual strengths and weaknesses. Parents unwittingly compare their children with those of others and by doing so create complexes in them which inhibit natural growth of their inherent talents. Comparisons are invidious and a sure recipe for worry and low esteem or false opinion about oneself.

    Reply
    • I love Osho’s words here. Even if you come from “the same tree” as someone else, you can’t expect both to be identical in every way.

      I just got into a conversation with a bunch of my friends who are also parents, and we were discussing how raising children isn’t about “molding” them into one certain image. It’s about giving them the tools to become the best person they can be, of their own choosing. It’s good insight, but honestly, as a mother I can say it is a very difficult (albeit worthy) task.

      Reply
  13. Amazing post!

    This is something which I am focusing on nowadays. In my experience, Self acceptance has tremendous power and all you need is a few simple changes in your perspective. I have written a similar post on this topic (check out: http://gameligit.com/path-unconditional-self-acceptance/

    I am glad to see a different angle on this topic . This post helped me a lot.

    Reply
  14. Thank you Deborah – I REALLY needed to read this today. Just yesterday I had an awful day because a friend (who seemingly has the ‘perfect life’) announced she was pregnant – something I crave more than anything in the world – and I became so upset but today I’m realising that we’re all on different chapters of our unique books so it is what it is.
    I’m yet to be able to find the balance between comparison being helpful or a hinderance but I’m getting there and posts like this give me a gentle reminder.

    Thank you again!

    Reply
    • Glad to hear that reading this post came at a good time for you. I have two sisters with fertility issues, and I know how difficult it can be to want to be pregnant and struggle. Sending you all the best vibes that when you want to start a family, you are able to.

      Reply
  15. Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for the well-written article. It is so timely for me to read the article of yours. As a parent of 2 kids, I tend to compare them with their friends’ achievements like examination results and other area of merits. It is indeed hard not to compare with others. But I understand there is a need to take a step back and see the little things that my kids have done in their life. I realized how wonderful they are and feel proud of them. Yes, I have to constantly remind myself the negative of comparing my kids with others.
    I do compare myself with my friends too. That is bad indeed and always put down my motivation to achieve more. The negative thoughts belittle myself. But again, I do not realize how good I am in certain areas. Yes, it is time to search myself.
    Thanks Deborah!!

    Reply
    • Being the parent of two young children, I can 100% relate. I quit my job to spend more time with my children 3 years ago and settled for part-time work. It has definitely been hard not to compare myself with people who choose to keep their jobs and have children. But then when I get to be in my children’s life and see how they are growing, I know this is the right thing for me, and I don’t need to compare to feel good about the life I lead.

      Reply
  16. Thanks Deborah! I really needed to hear this. I’ve been holding back at doing something big for fear of not being as successful as my peers. I’ll let you know when I get around to following through!

    I felt God shake me here “If you often find yourself lacking, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This can lead into a downward spiral of giving up on goals because you feel you can never measure up.”

    Thanks again!

    PS I think it’s awesome how you really spend time conversing with your readers.

    Reply
    • I’m happy this article came at the right time for you, Geo. I’ve done a few things in my life where I felt terrified because it was a path that my peers weren’t on. Each time I had to remind myself that this was right for me, and comparing myself wasn’t going to make my peers happier, but it would make me miserable. Not all of those decisions turned out to be 100% right for me, but I also know the “what ifs” would have plagued me if I hadn’t taken the risk. Good luck to you!

      Reply
  17. :) I try to teach the importance of what works for you, yourself. This is a great, simple article. Thank you .

    Reply
  18. Thank you for the reminder that I was created for a purpose. I was not given this life to please others, to compare to others, but for a purpose far greater than anything I could ever imagine.
    I am so encouraged by the success of others around me, their achievements should not heavily affect my personal belonging. Thank you for that reminder. :)

    Reply
    • I hope you find peace once you find what you are looking for, not what you think others want for you. Best of luck!

      Reply
  19. This is perfect timing :)

    I’ve recently been having somewhat of a crisis about this, seeing other people seemingly accomplishing all their goals while mine still seem so far away.

    What I realized was that even if I reached my goals today, I still couldn’t enjoy it if I was worrying about other people. I’m really trying to stop comparing myself to them.

    Reply
    • Don’t beat yourself up too hard if it takes a while not to compare yourself. It’s still hard for me. Old habits die hard. But you can create new habits that will allow you to move forward.

      Reply
  20. Dear Deborah
    I really love your picture, it looks so artistic
    What I really wanted to say was that I like the way that you explian to us that we shouldnt compare ourselfs to ther people.
    I also loke the way you used real life examples instead of just makeing things up.
    I really enjoyed it!:)
    From:Ariela

    Reply
  21. I’ve just come across this blog and what a great and refreshing source of motivation! My blog (no I’m not going to peddle it here) is a catalog of interviews with people who have followed their dreams and found success. Deborah your post adds another dimension to the things I’ve learnt from talking to those people. Good work!

    Reply
  22. Thanks for this reminder Deborah. Agreed. It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others and rarely is it helpful in any way. It’s much more useful to set our own goals for ourselves based on our own values and ambitions and keep track of how we’re doing based on our own choices and desires as opposed to those of others.

    Thanks again!
    Julia Kristina
    http://juliakristina.com/blog

    Reply
  23. Wonderful post.

    I really love reading different viewpoints on comparing ourselves with others. I find it very fascinating topic.

    I believe it really boils down to self-acceptance. If you accept yourself completely, you will naturally give up the inclination to compare yourself with others.

    Here in my perspective on this topic – http://gameligit.com/path-unconditional-self-acceptance/

    Reply
  24. Thank you so much for posting this.
    Suddenly i feel so positive about me. I understand that there are people, all around us, who are at some level doing better than us, and even if we want or not, our heart starts comparing us to them. It’s difficult to control this stream, but yes, i think we have to understand that, letting go comparisons is definitely the first step towards peace and success.
    Once again, thank you.

    Reply
    • So glad to hear this post is helping you see yourself in a more positive light. I wish you the best of luck as you continue to define success for yourself.

      Reply
  25. Excellent reminders all around. Post is filled with value.

    Completely agree that approval seeking & comparison with others make us a bucket with a hole in it. No matter how much it gets filled with approval, we will need more…

    Really enjoyed the article.

    I would like to share my own views on this topic – http://gameligit.com/stop-needing-approval-express-your-real-self/

    Reply
  26. Excellent reminders all around. Post is filled with value.

    Completely agree that approval seeking & comparison with others make us a bucket with a hole in it. No matter how much it gets filled with approval, we still need more…

    Really enjoyed the article.

    I would like to share my own views on this topic – http://gameligit.com/stop-needing-approval-express-your-real-self/

    Reply
  27. I found this to be really inspiring. It really shows a lot of good advise on how to be happy with yourself and stop comparisons. You have done a great job!

    Reply

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