Comparison – The Thief of Joy

While it is occasionally helpful to compare and contrast with our peers, it should not be made a habit especially as we get older, as it eventually does more harm than good. Sometimes, it seems impossible not to fall into the ‘comparison trap’ particularly when it feels like everyone is leaving you behind

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A distant friend of mine – let’s call her friend A, recently commenced her Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) programme at a university I could have dreamt of attending. Pretty young chapette. She is on a scholarship. I am not actually surprised. She’s always been very smart and I am happy for her. Nobody deserves it better.

This however raised some questions in my mind – why couldn’t that have been me? Does she have two heads? Am I not even older than her? Am I not as smart as she is?

A few months ago, another good friend – let’s call her friend B, said to me: ‘Girl, you have such a perfect life, everything always works out great for you’. I am not going to bore you with the reasons she cited for making this assertion. Of a truth, a part of me felt like she was right. But the greater part of me flashed back to the many imperfections in my life – the ones most people may not see.

There is a high likelihood that this is how my friend A above would feel if I ever told her that I thought her life was perfect.

Do you see the train of thoughts here?

As humans, we are often driven by a natural tendency to juxtapose our lives with others’, especially the people that are supposedly on the ‘same level’ as us. Peradventure, this is an attitude which we subconsciously imbibed from the way society vis-a-vis the educational system, is structured. From that societal point onward, it just seems like there is an invisible rating mechanism in our heads, which we judge ourselves by.

While it is occasionally helpful to compare and contrast with our peers, it should not be made a habit especially as we get older, as it eventually does more harm than good. Sometimes, it seems impossible not to fall into the ‘comparison trap’ particularly when it feels like everyone is leaving you behind but I hope I strike a chord in your mind here – if you need your peace, do not do it.

It is okay  – even helpful to have mentors or people you ‘look up to’, these kinds of people challenge us to do better, but the moment you start wishing you had their life, you need to sit back and tell yourself some truths.

Points to remember when you are tempted to compare your life with somebody else’s

1. Chances are there will always be someone who does something better than you (and perhaps someone you do something better than). Rest. Trust me. Using a relationship as illustration, there is almost always someone ‘better’ than your ‘current partner’. Asides the fact that ‘better‘ is relative, if one were to ‘move on‘ every time somebody ‘better‘  showed up, one would have to change partners constantly. Absurd right? Therefore, instead of searching for the best partner there is in the world, we should find and stick with the best partners for us. You likely will get better than you expected. Now, replace ‘partner’ with yourself in this scenario and stop being so hard on yourself.

**Note that this is not supposed to be an excuse to settle for mediocrity in any form.

2. You only need to be the best version of yourself. As a protraction of the former point, the only person you need to be in competition with is yourself. Show me a man who strives to be better than he was yesterday and I’ll show you a genuinely successful fellow. Somebody may be better at something than you, but there may be certain areas where you also do something better than that same person no matter how seemingly insignificant. In other words, focus on your core strengths, and kick ass while at it.

3. No one’s life is perfect. Some people seem to have a perfect life and perhaps you just wish you could exchange lives with them if that were even possible. Keep in mind that people only show you the aspect of their lives they want you to see. Agreed, these people generally seem like they ‘have it all together’ but most if not all of them are fighting battles that you have no idea about. I bet if we always saw the other sides per time, we’d be more kind to ourselves.

4. Comparison could lead to sadness and envy. Remember the scenario with friend A above? If you typically feel like your life is the worst among your peers and you find yourself constantly wondering why you are never as ‘lucky’ as that other person, sadness will inadvertently begin to creep into your mind. Not only that, you may even begin to wonder if that other person deserves as much ‘good’ as they seem to be getting in life. Honestly, it’s not worth it. Protect your joy.

5. There is enough room for everyone to succeed at what they do. Yes I said it. Even if they are doing the same thing. It does not matter if you are the twelve-thousandth person to venture into something, all you need to do is to keep giving it your best. In as much as you may feel like that zone or line of opportunity is already saturated, you will be surprised to learn that the world actually needs more of it. And if you can offer it, do your part and be good at it.

6. Feel free to re-strategise at any point in your life, if you feel the need to. We all get only one chance at this thing called life and it should be lived to the fullest of its potential. You do not have to do something because someone else is doing it, and vice-versa. However, you are responsible for the choices you make and the path you lead in life. Everyone is running their own race, run yours. And do it diligently too.

I will end this post with the quote of a certain wise person who said: “Every minute you spend wishing you had someone’s life is a minute spent wasting yours’’.

Responses

  1. larz
    Thanks for this post.

    I have come to realise that comparison doesn’t work. If you look hard enough you may also find that your goals aren’t aligned to others.

    If I find someone doing something better that I would like, I never shy away from asking them for tips. Often time, I find that I am unwilling to make the same sacrifices as they did. For example, you may find that your PHD friend has to sacrifice friendship, relationship or take unpaid leave for several months or even a year to be able to prepare for that scholarship.

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