• Eve Arnold

Anti-Comparison in a Comparative World

Comparison. We’ve been racing our whole lives.

A race to finish the test first, the race to the top of the class, the race to win the teacher’s attention. As we grow up, those races change to bigger stages like the race to win the promotion, the race to find the person you are meant to be with, the race to have kids, a dog and a mortgage.

We’re still racing, the stakes are just higher.

Our whole life we are put against each other, to test our abilities, to see where we fit. Whether we like it or not, we are racing.

Social media has meant that the constant comparison we once faced in school has now seeped into our daily lives. If you want to know what job, house, car someone has got, just go on any social media platform. There are plenty to choose from.

Then, bizarrely, we are told not to compare each ourselves to someone else. As if we can avoid every crevice of the world that has a slither of comparison in it.

We are told not to compare ourselves. We are told that we have different backgrounds, different life experiences, different everything, so how could we possibly compare ourselves? But we do, oh we do. We compare ourselves in the morning scroll of Facebook, we compare ourselves when we are flitting through Instagram and we compare ourselves over an afternoon coffee through LinkedIn.

Our lives are a constant scroll of comparison. It’s like a muscle we train day in and day out. A subconscious gym session (I wish those existed) in which we get better every day at comparing ourselves. We even develop shortcuts of comparing ourselves.

So how can we use this comparison muscle to our advantage? What could we start to use it as a mechanism to be happy with our own lives, to be grateful for what we have?

Well, it’s a tough ask, but there are a few things.

1. Be Confident in What You Are Doing

You can take confidence in what you are doing today, after all, why would you be doing it if it were fundamentally misaligned with who you are? You are steering your own ship, the decisions you’ve made to get here are those you’ve made yourself. No one else. Take confidence that you know yourself well enough to make decisions that will benefit you in the long run.

You will though, log onto Facebook or stumble across a LinkedIn post (if you’re unlucky, it’s both) and you’ll get sick with envy. Someone that you know, that has a similar background to you, is becoming wildly successful right before your very eyes. You smile and think ‘oh good for them’, but inside it’s tearing you up because you aren’t that successful. That’s normal.

That will happen every once in a while, that you being competitive and wanting the best for yourself. If that happens there are few things you can do.

One is to remain confident in your process. The things you are doing, the way you are living your life is the way you decided too. You didn’t need anyone else to tell you to live this way, it’s the way you wanted to purely because you wanted to. Trust in your own process enough, remember you are nowhere near finished yet. This race is more a-likened to a constant battle.

It’s enough to say “I’m not there yet, I know what I need to work on but for right now I’m happy with where life is going.”

You don’t need a reason to live the life you want to. You are allowed to do whatever you want, it’s your life. But don’t waste it being envious of other people.

Know that the path you are on was constructed by you, for you and you have your best interest at heart.

2. Understand That People Have Different Goals – The Comparison

The second thing to note is that different people have different goals. Yes in theory we all want to rich and famous but in practice, we all actually have quite different goals.

You don’t need to explain your goals and neither does anyone else. They are yours. So when you come across someone humble-bragging in their latest LinkedIn post that they are so lucky that they’ve managed to buy their second new car this year, remember your goals and what you want to achieve.

Have a constant dialogue on who you are and what you want.

If you are not sure what you want or who you are, the first place to start is by learning about yourself. It sounds a little odd but sticks with me. If you’re not sure what you want out of life, you need to start with figuring who you are and what you want to represent in this world.

That, by the way, can be anything. Hopefully, it’s something good. But it can really be whatever you want:

  1. To be the best parent you can be;

  2. To have a job that makes you happy;

  3. To earn £1 million by 30.

Whatever it is. There is no right or wrong here you just need to stick close to who you are. Often you might feel yourself getting envious of something and then you ask yourself “do I want that?” and the answer is no.

You scroll through social media and notice the girl you went to school with has a Range Rover but when you ask yourself if you want a Range Rover, the answer is no. You’ve never been interested in nice cars.

Be clear on who you are and what your goals are.

3. Delete the Things That Cause You to Compare

Notice there is a theme here. Every time you log in somewhere or scroll somewhere else. If you find yourself logging on to social media, reading for 30 minutes, getting jealous and worked up, well then delete your social media accounts.

I know, shocking.

But seriously. If it’s a source of frustration and pain, why bother? What are you getting from it anyway?

Things in life need to serve a purpose. Your car has the purpose of getting you from A to B. Your journal has the purpose of you documenting your thoughts. Your iPhone allows you to text your loved ones.

These are all positive things.

If the only thing social media does is allow you to compare yourself and that’s leading to a pit of self-destruction, delete it.

Honestly, delete it.

I deleted Instagram over a year ago and I’m exponentially happier with my life.

If it doesn’t bring you anything but sadness, get rid of it.

4. Understand How Much You Really Need

Sometimes, like a greedy kid leering into a sweetshop, you either want an incredible amount of something or you only want something because someone else does. If you observe little kids (or as it happens, my dogs) you will realise that you could give one of them something, anything, and without a doubt, the other one will want that thing. It’s just like it’s mere existence isn’t enough, it has to exist and be in someone else’s hands. And then, only then, it becomes desirable.

As adults, I don’t think we’ve evolved very much. We do this but with LinkedIn job titles. We do it with houses, cars and salaries. Sure we could all do with a little more right? A little more money, a slightly bigger house, a newer car. But do you need that? Are you actually craving that thing or are you just wildly jealous of someone else because they have that thing and you don’t?

Are you being a toddler? I know harsh but it’s true. Have you got lots of toys and you’re only wanting more because you can see someone having fun with the one that you don’t have?

Being aware of what you actually need is important. And that extends into what you really want also.

You need to be careful here. If you apply this approach to most aspects in life it will lead to a constant sense of unhappiness.

There will always be someone with more than you. Don’t worry about it. Worry about what you have and what you need.

5. Understand What You Actually Want in Life, Understand Comparison

Sometimes, and I’ve found myself doing it, you become jealous of people that you have absolutely zero aspiration to be. It’s like seeing someone become wildly successful in hand stitching or arts and crafts, and feeling jealous.

You have never, ever desired to do any of the things they are doing, in fact, you don’t have the patience or inclination to pursue anything remotely arts and crafty, yet their success makes you feel inferior.

In this case, you need to stick to what you actually want in life. This doesn’t about want, this isn’t about need. What do you actually want? Because for the last 7 years you’ve told yourself you want to be something completely different to this thing you are being jealous of.

Success, despite what you think and feel, isn’t a finite resource. Just because someone else is successful, doesn’t mean you can’t be. You are able to be successful if someone else is. Their success isn’t to say you aren’t successful or won’t be.

Remember what you want to achieve in your life. Remember what you are focused on and where you want to get to. This isn’t about looking over at other people and feeling envious, this is about learning why you are feeling that way. It might be that you just have a habit of feeling jealous or it might be that an element of their success is sparking some desire in yourself.

Be careful though, make sure you are clear on what you want to achieve in your life. Your life is about you.

Comparison is part of our lives from the very beginning. Mum’s will boast if their child walks within the first 9 months, parents will coo over the top of the class and teachers will praise highly if their pupils get top marks.

Your job though isn’t to pay attention to the competitors as you get older, it’s to pay attention to what you are doing. Are you embarrassed by who you were last year? Yes? Good.

That means you’re growing.

You’re only competition is you, do better than you did last week, month, year. Embrace the comparison between you and yourself.

Don’t worry if someone has a new car on their drive, worry about what car you want on your drive. Make sure your own house is in order, life will take care of the rest.

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