Comparison is the enemy
The first days of school were always bitter-sweet for me. The summer was over, and it was time to work. But the start of school also meant new activities and seeing friends again (I grew up in the woods of Vermont, so summers could be isolating). One feeling I do remember was the pride of walking into school with a new pair of sneakers. My family’s tradition was to get new ‘school’ shoes before starting a school year. My mom would drive us to the Adidas outlet, and my brother and I could pick out a pair of sneakers. It felt like such a splurge.
I remember being especially proud of a pair of Adidas Sambas. I swear they could help me run faster, jump higher, and possibly fly. I was so proud until I got to school to see the wealthy kids with new shoes, jeans, hats, bikes, and more. All of a sudden, something I cherished didn’t seem like enough. It was a tragedy that a beautiful gift didn’t seem as good now that I looked at what others had. Of course, there were others who didn’t have new shoes, but our default is to compare ourselves to those with more, not less.
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ -Theodore Roosevelt
I wish I could say I would outgrow the bent of comparison as I got older. I didn’t. It may not come in the form of shoes anymore, but the comparison is still an enemy I fight today. When a friend buys a new car, a nicer house, a teammate gets a promotion, or a Twitter acquaintance launches a product or business, I can feel the tendrils of comparison reaching for me. Why didn’t I do that? Why isn’t that me?
I am not sure we can ever get away from comparison, but I’ve found some things to combat it.
- Celebrate others. This has been a powerful practice for me. We like to place ourselves in others’ stories, even when we don’t belong. We are the center of the world after all? When a friend shares news, I try and take myself out of their story for just a moment. This helps me fight not to be the center of the world. I’ll write a note, take them out for a celebratory dinner, jump up and down, buy them a drink! I try and place myself in their shoes and get pumped!
- I deprioritize things that don’t matter. I Identify things in my life that I am willing to compromise on. It could be many things for you. Is it clothing? Vacations? Career? My wife and I have decided that cars aren’t something we value investing in. We drive safe used cars, just not ‘nice’ ones. We make a deliberate trade-off to spend our money in other places. That is savings, charitable giving, and trips to see our families. Does this mean I don’t compare my 2006 Hyundai Tucson to my neighbor’s new Tesla? No. But it does root me in knowing I am making an intentional choice. I can be happy for them and happy with my priorities.
- I keep a gratitude journal. It may sound cheesy, but give it a try. Each day take a moment to identify things you are thankful for in your life. It could be friends, your job, a pair of shoes. Keep it up. A Berkeley study found that practicing gratitude can unshackle toxic emotions and have lasting effects on your brain.
I am a work in progress. I want to say I have conquered comparison. I have not. But I want to put my best foot forward to prevent comparison from hurting my life. Comparison is toxic and can damage your relationships, career, and life. Don’t let it rob you of all the beauty you have right now.