It is only natural that we might make comparisons between ourselves and others as we go through life. However, constant comparison can be such a detriment to your overall satisfaction and happiness. Do you find yourself constantly comparing yourself and your successes to your friends, colleagues, siblings, and even strangers? Are you using those comparisons to make determinations about where you should be in your own career, what your salary should be, or what your personal life should look like?
Sometimes we use the comparisons we make as a yardstick of sorts to measure our own success. Unfortunately, this is harmful to our mental health and overall goal-setting. Consider this: You are setting your goals based on the individual situation of someone else! This means you are likely taking less time to truly evaluate what’s important to you in your life. You may not be setting goals that will drive you to your own sense of fulfillment. You are simply competing with the perceived fulfillment of another.
Finding your measuring stick
If we are setting our life and career goals based on the perceived success of others, then not only are we likely setting unattainable goals, but we aren’t taking the time to consider if those goals will even truly fulfill us when we reach them.
Think of it this way: You are trying to reach a fantasy finish line.
I once received the advice, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle,” which was a golden nugget I will never forget. To build upon that, who is to say it’s even their middle? Maybe it’s their finish line, and you’ll have room to grow far beyond what they did. But never forget to take the time to evaluate what you want your measure of success to be. What are the things that will actually fulfill you by achieving them? Those are the only things that can be used as a measurement of your own success. Here are some tips to help you identify your personal measuring stick:
- Identify your core values: Reflect on what matters most to you, both personally and professionally. Understanding your guiding principles can help you set goals that align with your beliefs and priorities.
- Set SMART goals: Establish Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals for different aspects of your life. These can include career milestones, personal growth targets, or financial objectives.
- Celebrate small victories: Recognize and celebrate your progress along the way, even if it’s just a small step towards your larger goal. Acknowledging achievements boosts motivation and reinforces your commitment to success.
- Reassess and adapt: Regularly evaluate your goals and progress, adjusting your plans as needed. Embrace change and be open to new opportunities that may arise, leading to a more fulfilling definition of success.
The trappings of comparing and contrasting
From our vantage point, we can rarely assess the bigger picture of someone else’s whole situation. You are likely only seeing part of the picture – the highlight reel of their life. You see their bigger office, a newer car, and pictures of their beautiful family on their amazing vacation on social media. This is always an incomplete picture. Social media, in particular, has heightened our instincts to compare, and the lens it provides is not an accurate or realistic one.
You are inviting feelings of inadequacy into your life and creating the perception of failure that is not reality. Unfortunately, we tend to make comparisons on a negative level versus a positive one. Ask yourself these questions:
- When you make comparisons, are you making positive ones?
- Do these comparisons make you feel good?
- Do they make you feel successful?
- Are those comparisons leading you to perceived feelings of shortcomings?
- Do you find yourself thinking that you should be making more money, living in a bigger house, getting higher promotions, etc., after comparing your situation to others?
Get your head right
This is where the impact comparison can have on your mental health becomes critically important. These comparisons lead us to think that we are not smart enough, not attractive enough, not successful enough… when none of that is accurate! Those feelings come from comparing yourself to someone else’s curated list of successes. You are not fairly comparing yourself to the entire situation, including the dark unknown corners of another’s situation.
Continually comparing yourself to others can have detrimental effects on your mental health, as it fosters a mindset of inadequacy and self-doubt. This constant self-scrutiny can lead to anxiety, depression, and even a decline in motivation and productivity. It’s crucial to remember that each individual’s journey is unique, and comparing oneself to others’ perceived successes is often an unfair and distorted perception of reality. Instead, focus on appreciating your own strengths, accomplishments, and personal growth. By redirecting your energy towards self-improvement and self-compassion, you can foster a healthier mindset that encourages personal fulfillment and long-term success.
Everybody’s doing it
Not only should you be wary of the comparisons you make regarding your own life, but be aware that the team members you have in your firm are likely making comparisons as well. As a leader, this affects you; as they make these comparisons, it could be impacting their motivation and organizational commitment. One of the most common traps for workplace comparison is salary. Whether you like it or not, your team members are comparing their compensation with one another. As with any other type of comparison, this can be a trap your team members can fall into easily. If your team members perceive that they are being paid less than their colleagues, it can lead to feelings of resentment and job dissatisfaction. This, in turn, can lead to decreased productivity as they feel undervalued in their work.
You might see their work quality slipping as they subconsciously lower their work output to match the level they perceive they are being compensated for. The best way to combat this scenario in your firm is to set clear and transparent salary ranges. Team members may not see the whole picture when making these salary comparisons, just the same as with other comparisons. Perhaps they don’t truly grasp variances in levels of experience or even the total compensation package, including all benefits. By keeping salary brackets consistent in your firm and making the structure transparent, you can avoid the common pitfalls of salary comparison.
Focus on you
Regardless of the comparisons you may be making, I challenge you to try to stop. We know the drill; we should only be comparing ourselves to the person we were yesterday and seeking to improve and beat ourselves. But that is easier said than done, isn’t it? Not only can these comparisons bring out those feelings of inadequacy, but they can lead to toxic relationships and even the loss of relationships in your life. Those feelings of inadequacy you may get from your constant comparisons could turn into feelings of resentment towards others around you. That resentment could be toxic to the relationships you have with your friends, colleagues, and mentors. It is truly a dangerous trap!
Take the time to reflect on your goals and be your own competition. As you learn and grow in this process, share that success with your team and encourage them to do the same. Not only will goals become more attainable and fulfilling, but there will be increased motivation to reach them in a positive manner. This will hold true for you and your team!