Today I want to talk about how to stop comparing yourself to others. Here’s a question I recently received from a dear reader:
How do you do what you love without comparing yourself to other people? Let me explain. I’m in a competitive M.A. program and am planning to be a Ph.D. candidate by next year. This spring, I’m applying to be one of 16 students selected for a summer seminar at Yale. I love what I’m studying and think it’s what I’m meant to do. I also truly believe that the way to be happy and reduce anxiety-depression is to stop comparing yourself to other people. How do I reconcile this last belief with the fact that the very nature of a career I enjoy demands me to compare my success to that of others and try to stand out? It’s a paradox I’ve been struggling over lately.
This is an excellent question and one that I’ve struggled with mightily myself. I love what I do as a blogger, but making an income as one involves standing out in the sea of a gazillion other bloggers and paying attention to yardsticks like pageviews and followers and subscribers.
It’s incredibly difficult to not compare how I’m doing to how others are doing. And yes, I do admit that I do engage in those comparisons from time to time. But like my dear reader, I know that constant comparing is a one- way ticket to Land of Mental Health Problems.
So whenever the urge to compare arises, here’s what I do.
How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
1. Remember That Comparisons Make Zero Sense
For starters, it’s good to always remind yourself of the fact that comparing your success to that of other people actually makes zero sense.
First, your journey is unique and without comparison. You didn’t start your journey at the same point as anyone else in this world. You had unique genes, a unique upbringing, unique talents, unique weaknesses, and unique obstacles. Therefore, it only makes sense to compare where you are today to where you were yesterday. It does not make sense to compare where you are today to where someone else is today.
Second, you never know everything there is to know about another person’s journey. It’s impossible to know what exactly other people have gone through or what sacrifices they have made in order to get to where they are today. You can’t even know exactly where they are today. You see the surface, but you don’t get to see what’s lurking underneath. It doesn’t make sense to compare your journey to someone else’s journey, because you are not intimately familiar with their journey the same way you are with yours.
2. Create Your Own Definition Of Success
Here’s an unpleasant truth we might as well acknowledge, because it’s the truth: Much of the world operates based on the belief that life is a competition.
The mainstream western culture and economic principles encourage competition. Your achievements in school, at work, and in sports are measured relative to others. Your financial success comes down to how much perceived value you are offering compared to the next guy.
This is the world we live in today.
However, it’s up to you to decide whether these are the principles according to which you want to live your life. Your life doesn’t have to be all about winning a competition. Your life doesn’t have to be part of a race to see who can make the most money or who can achieve the most status symbols or who can tolerate the most stress.
It’s up to you to decide what you want your life to be all about. You can create your own definition of success.
Which brings us to my next point…
3. Never Measure Your Success In Just One Area
If I measured my success in life solely based on pageviews and how much money I make as a blogger, I would be in dire straits, compared to all those “Here’s How I Made A Six-Figure Income My First Year Blogging”- bloggers.
But guess what? Even though it took me two years to reach 100K monthly pageviews and even though I’m STILL not making a full-time income, I’m actually feeling pretty darn successful, because:
- I’m feeling healthier than I ever have in my entire life, both physically and mentally.
- I’ve created a generally low stress lifestyle, so that when uncontrollable stressors come up, I have plenty of capacity to handle them without falling apart.
- I only work part-time, so I can devote ample time to my husband and kids and housework.
- Every day I get emails from readers telling me I have helped them.
There are many things I could do to boost my blogging career success, as measured in pageviews and income. I could trade sleep or exercise or cooking or relaxation or family time to putting in more work hours. I could switch from writing about mental health and personal development to something more profitable, like personal finance or weight loss.
But if I did that, I would sacrifice my health and my family and my true passion. And while outsiders might view me as more successful, I myself, would not.
4. Replace Comparisons With Learning
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing inherently wrong with comparing yourself to other people as long as you are not using comparisons to beat yourself up or as fuel to make unhealthy choices.
Instead of trying to quit comparing completely (which is a tall order anyway), and instead of using comparisons to beat yourself up, it’s possible to use comparisons as a learning opportunity.
When you compare yourself to someone who appears to be more successful than you are, think about what they had to do to get there. You can’t have the full story obviously, but try to imagine the steps that person had to take.
Do you want the success bad enough to take the same steps? If yes, use that person’s success as an inspiration and as proof of what’s possible.
Or would the success not be worth the sacrifices to you? Would success in that area require you to sacrifice too much in other areas of life?
5. Work On Cultivating An Abundance Mindset
By cultivating an “abundance mindset”, I simply mean reminding yourself that the world is endlessly full of opportunities.
Another person’s success doesn’t diminish yours.
If any one opportunity is a bust, there will be others.
If another blogger has more readers than I do, those readers were not “stolen” from me. There are seven billion potential readers in this world for me to pursue. There are enough readers for everyone.
If your best friend makes twice as much money as you do, that money was not “stolen” from you. There’s an endless amount of money circulating in this world. If you really want to make as much money as your friend, figure out how others have done it and follow their example.
If another student takes your spot in a competitive academic program or if a colleague snags a promotion that you were vying for, that’s a disappointment, yes. But that was just one opportunity.
This world is full of opportunities.
And some of those other opportunities might be EVEN better.