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How Comparing Yourself to Others Holds You Back

If You’re Comparing Yourself to Others You’re Hurting Yourself

For at least the first five years I spent writing, I compared myself to other people. I compared the bylines I earned with the bylines of my peers. I counted Twitter and Instagram followers and told myself that numbers mattered. I believed the success of my friends (or anybody I knew) meant I wouldn’t find my own, or worse: that we were now in a race, and our conversations about work would be defined by quiet competition. I wanted to be the best, and maintained that, unless I had what other people did, I wasn’t moving forward. But exactly the opposite was true. The irony is that if you’re comparing yourself to others, you’re actually holding yourself back.

Comparing yourself to others is one of the loneliest ways to exist in the world because you’re cutting yourself off from them. In the arts especially, friendships are what sustain and charge you; they’re the silver lining in an industry often tainted by egos and missed paychecks and ups and downs and disappointments. Plus: competition and comparison only detracts from your own work, especially as you pour energy into focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you actually do.

Comparing yourself to others is one of the loneliest ways to exist in the world because you’re cutting yourself off from them.

For almost a decade, my work and my mindset was defined by getting ahead — or worse: getting ahead of the people I surrounded myself with. I looked at their accomplishments, their financial situations, and the places they went, and used my jealousy to fuel days and nights spent pitching, writing, editing, and promoting.

News Flash:  Nobody Cares

I told myself that everyone was looking; that anybody who wronged me would see how much I achieved and be filled with regret upon noticing where I was writing and for whom and for how much. I operated under the belief that the world was my audience, and that they would see (“they would all see!”) once I hit that mythical Next Level™.

And that failed for two reasons:

  1. Because nobody cares. Most of the time, we’re all just trying our best; trying to get by and to survive and to make our way in the world without spontaneously combusting. For the most part, nobody is looking at us because they’re all too busy looking at themselves, and that makes complete sense. If we all sat around ogling the achievements of everybody around us, we’d never get anything done. Jealousy is a timesuck.
  2. There is no mythical Next Level™. No amount of success will ever make everything perfect.
The most creative and hardworking people will never be finished

They will never close up shop after reaching a specific milestone, dust their hands off, and say “All done!” The people who inspire us the most work because they have to. They work because their goals and dreams are bigger than credits and bylines and paychecks. They work because they love what they do, and it has nothing to do with the people around them.

How I Hacked My Own Jealousy

While I never had an “a-ha!” moment in terms of comparison, the more I wrote and the more I began challenging myself to write pieces I wanted to write, the more I began competing with myself instead of the people around me. Which was still a process. When friends would score a great gig or a big job, I’d feel that familiar pang of jealousy and have to consciously remind myself that their success didn’t detract from my own; that just because they got A Thing it didn’t mean I wouldn’t also one day.

I checked myself upon hearing pals’ news of windfalls or great-paying jobs and remembered that they’d worked hard and were on their own paths and their dreams were coming true. And I told myself to shut up and keep my eyes on my own paper because our jobs and our lives and our friendship wasn’t laced with competition. Plus, I would hate if I found any of my friends were doing the same to me.

Why Comparison can be the Thief of Joy

A few years ago, a friend of mine reminded me of the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and while I repeated it to friends and family and anyone else who’d listen, I didn’t embrace it until relatively recently. It’s easy to look at the people around you and decide that’s who you want to be. It’s motivating to believe that everything they can do you, you can do better, and then easier still to use that mantra to drive yourself to outrank everyone you know.

But to live and work that way is empty. It cripples your ability to be happy about your own work and to be happy for the people who mean the most to you. It creates a set of expectations that come to define you while driving home the idea that unless you tick them all off, you’ve failed. It breeds an “us versus them” mindset that gives birth to issues of everything from class to some made-up elite. It divides and separates and makes us all miserable. And we’ve all done it.

To “catch up” to somebody is a myth because everyone is living their own lives, which are the sum of their own experiences.

Jealousy is normal. To acknowledge it is healthy. But it doesn’t deserve to be a defining factor in anybody’s career — it’s not worthy. To compare and contrast between what you’ve achieved (or haven’t) and the achievements of your friends will just shift your focus away from what you love and will drain your work.

To “catch up” to somebody is a myth because everyone is living their own lives, which are the sum of their own experiences. And while it’s easy to forget this when you’d also like a raise or a byline or the ability to buy someplace to live, it’s easier still to remember that the energy you’re putting into comparisons could easily fuel your next huge project.

And who knows what wonderful things might come from that.

Anne T. Donahue writes for MTV News, Refinery29, The Guardian and other outlets. She is in a loving and committed relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio.


Photo by hannah grace

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