By LaPora Lindsey
I shared my view on something, but I don’t think it was the most effective advice.
A while back, I shared my belief that we should not compare ourselves to others, and that getting caught up in such comparisons was a trap. But I’ve come to realize that life is rarely so simple. What is the meaning by comparison?
Experts in psychology, such as Leon Festinger, have shown that comparison (specifically social comparison) is a fundamental part of our nature. When you stop and think about it, so many aspects of our lives require us to compare and evaluate. We set standards based on comparison. People are deemed “healthy” based on what is typical – a form of comparison. We compare products to decide which one we like best. We judge people’s kindness based on how they measure up to others we’ve encountered- a form of comparison. We decide which books to read based on what typically interests us. Comparison is simply a part of how we make sense of the world around us.
Given that comparison is such a natural part of life, it’s important to learn how to work with it, rather than trying to eliminate it altogether. One of the primary risks associated with comparison is what psychologists call positional bias – where we compare ourselves to those who are “above” us in some way. This type of comparison often results in feelings of depression, anxiety, and overall dissatisfaction.
From both a personal and professional standpoint, I can speak to the dangers of comparison between yourself and others without fully understanding their circumstances. For example, when I first started my business, I found myself looking at others who had just opened their own businesses and were already experiencing great success. However, because I was so focused on comparing myself, I failed to pay close attention to what was different. Upon closer examination, I realized that I was comparing my business at surface-level to others. While it looked like we were the same, in reality had vastly different circumstances. Some had been in the business for years as a side hustle and had recently made the decision to go into business full-time. Others had connections who were willing to invest in their business, or had a support system that gave them an edge. Others had been working behind the scenes for years before actually implementing their idea.
Here I was with an idea that had quickly turned into a business, but I was mistakenly thinking that all of my peers were on the same playing field when, in reality, we weren’t even playing the same sport. This realization helped me to shift my perspective and focus on how to compare in ways that helps my career and business rather than harm it.
In this article, we explore in two steps to use comparison in a healthy way, and the benefits that can come from it. So, what can we do about this inherent need to compare ourselves to others?
Firstly, rather than expending energy trying to eliminate comparison altogether, it can be more beneficial to refocus that energy. While there may be some negative impacts associated with comparison, these are often a result of surface-level comparisons. To gain the benefits of comparison, it’s important to go beyond surface-level and delve deeper.
It’s crucial to determine your desired outcomes. Let’s focus on the professional realm for now. What do you envision your professional life looking like in a year or five years? How will this impact other areas of your life? Are you seeking a job with a certain salary or flexibility, or a career with opportunities for growth and development? We all have different desires, so it’s essential to identify what you want first. This may involve taking a break from social media and other sources that may influence your desires. It’s a time for you to choose what’s best for you, which can be achieved through meditation, prayer, or journaling, essentially creating space for you to listen to yourself.
Once you’ve taken a step back and identified what you want, it’s time to look for others who have achieved something similar to what you aspire to. But it doesn’t stop there! Observe and analyze their success. You can gain valuable insights and inspiration by looking past what you see initially. This leads us to step 2.
Step 2-Get to know Other (Market Research)
Look for individuals who have achieved a similar goal or have experience in your desired field. Analyze their approach, challenges, and methods of overcoming obstacles. By doing so, you can make informed decisions and take steps towards achieving your desired outcome. There are people who have met similar outcomes to what you desire or are seemingly on the path to reaching the outcomes that you desire. Now here is where the work comes in, instead of comparing only what you see, take it one step further and hold conversations with the people you are comparing yourself to. By having conversations with those who are already where you want to be, you can gain valuable insights into their strategies and approaches.
Three questions that can be helpful in getting answers to what should you consider are:
- What has been easy?
- What has been a challenge?
- What has been beneficial?
This allows you to make more informed decisions and avoid making the same mistakes the others made. It’s easy to compare yourself to those who appear to be doing better than you in every aspect. However, this can be a disservice to your progress, because you are always focused on how far behind you are. Instead, focus on the specific areas where you want to improve and compare (research) those who are already working those areas. By doing so, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses, and work on areas that need improvement.
Of course not everyone is willing or able to hold a conversation with you, and that’s okay too. In those cases, market research is still your friend. Pay attention to what they share and dont share. What is it about what they share that you admire. While you may not be able to get the background of the how, you can at least identify attributes that may work to strategically for you latter on. In the event that you come up with only surface level comparison due to a lack of information you will have to leave your insights at face value: you dont have enough information to determine if the route they took is viable for you.
This leads to the major benefits- healthy comparison allows you to make informed decisions based on evidence. One quick realization for me was that even if you are working towards the same goals as a peer, we all start at different points. That means we each have to make adjustments on how we reach that goal.
When you go beyond surface-level comparison and delve deeper into what others have experienced, you are essentially conducting research. By looking for common themes among the people you are comparing yourself to, you can gain valuable insight into what has worked for others and make informed decisions about your own goals and strategies. This approach can help you avoid blindly following trends or making hasty decisions based on incomplete information.
Comparison when used strategically is a motivator rather than a hindrance. Seeing others achieve the things that you want can be daunting and discouraging if you are putting forth the effort but aren’t seeing similar results. However, by going past surface-level comparison as motivation, you can use the professional development of others as a benchmark for your own growth and development. This allows you to set realistic goals and strive towards achieving them.
Healthy comparison can be a valuable tool for personal and professional growth and development. When approached in a positive and constructive manner, comparison can help you achieve your desired outcomes more effectively with the help of insights gained from peers. It’s important to remember that comparison is not about proving superiority over others, but about gathering information and knowledge to create a customized plan that serves your own unique needs and goals. By utilizing healthy comparison, you can gain valuable perspectives and insights from others, learn from their experiences, and make informed decisions that benefit your growth and development.