It’s something we all go through at some point in our lives.
While a healthy dose of it can inspire or motivate us to push ourselves, for many of us, it can become a debilitating fixation that damages our self-esteem and development.
It is, of course, comparing ourselves to others.
I receive a lot of messages from people asking advice on various topics, and the one thing that many of them have in common is that they aren’t looking at themselves.
Instead, they measure their worth and success against how other people are doing.
What is success?
As one worried young professional wrote to me: “I feel I should be as successful as some of my friends, but I’m lagging.”
In cultures where financial independence and status are so highly praised, young people especially can fall victim to the burden of carrying heavy expectations on their shoulders.
Their parents expect them to become a success upon graduation; they look to their friends who are doing well and feel the additional pressure; or they look at their age and think they should be much better off after a long… oh, 25 or 35 years.
After all, Mark Zuckerberg was just 23 when he made his first billion dollars.
Bill Gates was a little slower, reaching ‘billionaire’ status at the grand old age of 31.
Avoid the limiting mindset
Whenever we look solely to people who have ‘made it’, we fall victim to what psychologists call survivorship bias.
This describes the tendency to focus on the success stories while forgetting about the thousands of others who didn’t make it.
For example, let’s say we have 100 friends and, out of the 100, four of them are remarkably successful.
Those will be the four we fixate on and compare ourselves to, forgetting about the 96 per cent majority who are roughly in the same position as ourselves.
Survivorship bias is detrimental for two key reasons on a personal level:
- We come to believe that we’re failures because we don’t match up to the few examples we focus on; and,
- This leads to the mind cultivating more limiting beliefs and negative self-talk. Going round in that circle, we’re bound to make slow progress because our beliefthat we’re not good enough grows in strength.
Of course, it’s natural that we compare ourselves to others – it can give us a sense of where we are in our social world; and again, in a healthy dose, it can be a motivating force.
However, there are lots of us who tend to compare ourselves to others a little too much, which can foster nasty thinking habits that affect our psychological well-being as well as our friendships, in some cases.
That said, there are very good reasons to avoid comparing ourselves to others.
For me, it’s as simple as realising that the more time is spent on measuring ourselves against friends and colleagues, the less time is spent on putting in the work needed to get to where we want to be.
Focus on the effort, too
We all have our place in the world. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and the paths we have to travel.
But most importantly, we all make our mark – whatever that means to each of us – in our own time.
The artist, Pablo Picasso, was recognised for his artistic genius by the time he was 17.
On the other hand, Colonel Harland Sanders was in his 60s before the first KFC franchise was opened in America.
One of the true hidden secrets of success is that, contrary to belief, the bigger the success you chase, the slower you have to go to attain it.
We hear stories of leaders and entrepreneurs who make the most of every minute for 18 hours every day and become massively successful.
But these stories don’t look at the time it has taken the likes of, say, Elon Musk, to get to where they are today, or at their struggles and many failures along the way.
All we see and hear is the shiny perception of the ‘success story,’ and that’s where we make our comparison.
Instead of comparing, what we really need is a shift in perspective to see the amount of effort and hard work it takes to become a success.
For those who achieve quick success, there are usually elements of substantial support, luck, timing, and other factors that come together to make such stories appear attractive and easy.
But we have to think of what really goes on behind the scenes, rather than spending our time focusing on the show reel.
The very best leaders, those who manage to make their success stick, won’t be the ones who post on LinkedIn every day about the million hurdles they overcame in order to be an amazing chief executive officer (CEO) or wealthy founder of a tech start-up.
The very best leaders are the ones who spend most of their time comparing themselves to who they were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
They work on themselves and on their teams, and many of their stories feature tough failures without the awe-inspiring close. Their next line is usually something like, “So, I could either give up and go home, or go back and start again…”
Make a commitment to yourself
When we were children, our parents measured our changes in height against our previous marks, not someone else’s.
We can’t control how other people grow, but we do have control over how we develop over time.
You’re the only one living your journey, and the only thing that matters is your experience.
What other people are up to, leave that to them and concentrate on how you’re shaping your future.
To rise above the suffering that comes with comparing ourselves to others, there’s one remedy: just stop doing it.
From this moment on, make a commitment to yourself – while you can look to others to emulate and learn from them, the only comparison you’ll make from now on will be between yourself and who you were 24 hours, one week or six months ago.
The most important thing is that you keep going.
As the great leader, Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Prefer an e-mag reading experience? This article is also available in our 6th October, 2018 digital issue. Access our digital issues here.