5 Tips for Dealing with Comparison
The other morning, I awoke feeling uneasy. I’d just emerged from a dream in which I was taunted for being less successful than someone else. The “taunters” reveled in comparing me negatively to others. I kept trying to escape by darting to a bright, childlike playland, but couldn’t get away.
Upon reflection, I saw that each aspect of my dream represented a part of myself. The person more accomplished than me symbolized an idealized image of success. The taunters were my choir of inner critics who push me to improve through harsh assessments. (Yep, still a recovering perfectionist!) The playland was the safe haven I seek—where I’m free to be myself, no upgrades needed.
Writing Confusion to Clarity taught me that I'm not the only 20something who occasionally compares myself to others. Far from it. My research revealed comparison to be a common struggle, especially in the arena of work and achievement. Fortunately, many 30somethings have told me these feelings calm down through the next decade. Time and broadened life experience have a way of easing you into your own skin. I’m just shy of 30, and looking forward to that!
In the meantime, below are 5 tips I find helpful for beating the comparison game. (Note that I'm referring to negative comparisons, in which you feel one-down.)
- If you find yourself stewing in comparison, it’s okay. As the adage goes, what you resist persists, so let it be. But when you're ready, do take a step back from these thoughts, and shift your focus.
- One alternative to comparing is taking a realistic inventory of your own life. Give yourself due credit: for who you are, the risks you’ve taken, the challenges you’ve overcome, the accomplishments you’re working hard for. Also pinpoint the areas in which you want or need to develop, both personally and professionally. Be honest and straightforward. I’ve found that rational analysis soothes my inner critics; hopefully it’ll tame yours too.
- Use comparison to gain self-awareness. Get curious about its message. For example, are you “should-ing all over yourself,” trying to achieve a standard that works for someone else but isn’t right for you? Or, do your feelings of comparison to others reflect a desire to make a positive change in your own life? Find out what comparison is really trying to tell you.
- Learn from the people to whom you compare yourself. Consider talking with someone you admire or envy. You could ask questions such as: How did you reach this point in your life? What lessons have you learned? Although you might feel vulnerable reaching out, the responses you hear could inspire your next step.
- Finally, remember that your path is uniquely your own. When you are tempted to compare, come back to center. Again and again. Focus on your gifts, your goals, your contribution to the community and to our planet. Get busy living your own calling. I’ve found this to be the best balm of all.