Do you compare – and then despair?

How to avoid getting caught in the comparison trap

I was going through pictures yesterday and came across one from the last reunion I attended at my all girls high school. It reminded me of what a  good time I had that day, reconnecting with classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation. I also remembered some of the feelings that were swirling inside me before the event….

I was really curious to see who was doing what and the paths their lives had taken. To share news about careers, kids and the ups and downs we’d each experienced over the years. Did those voted “most likely to ___” live up (or down) to those predictions?

And though I didn’t voice it at the time, if I’m totally honest, the thought of going back to school also triggered some of my old insecurities. What will my classmates think of me? How will I measure up to the expectations of who they thought I’d become? (Okay – I admit it. I also bought a new dress and got a haircut so I could show up looking my best!)

The truth is, most of us have moments when we compare ourselves to others. Occasionally, we may be inspired by their success (“Hey, I could do that, too!”), but typically our thoughts run something like this:

  • Another promotion? Her career is really taking off. (meanwhile, I’m stagnating).
  • OMG – look at those vacation pics from Fiji on Facebook! (and I’m planning a staycation).
  • Her business is growing twice as fast as mine. (even though we started up at the same time).

Let’s face it – we’re only human and it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. When this happens, it brings up a lot of self-judgment that can undermine your confidence and trigger some variation of that old “I’m not good (smart, successful, young, etc.) enough” story. The fact is, if you measure your worth in comparison to someone else, you are doomed to be disappointed. There will always be someone doing or having more than you in some area.

Here are some strategies to stop the self-sabotage when a compare and despair cycle threatens to bring you down:

  • Give yourself a dose of self-compassion. It’s often said we’re our own worst critics and in my experience, this is usually true. Our minds are naturally wired to go to the negative – or as Dr. Russ Harris says, they’re tuned into “Radio Triple F” which constantly broadcasts your fears, flaws and failures. Recognize these are thoughts (words that create stories), not the truth. Acknowledge them, but then release them.
  • Appreciate your talents, accomplishments and strengths. I see many incredible women who are so caught up in striving for their next achievement that they don’t take time to recognize all they’ve already done. Pause to acknowledge and absorb your gifts, achievements and all the abundance in your life. You’ll be less inclined to worry about how you measure up to someone else.
  • Set your own standards. There is an old saying: consider the source. Who and what are you comparing yourself to? Celebrities who always look perfect, Facebook friends who only post idyllic lifestyle pics or women who pretend they can do it all with ease? These aren’t real! Let go of impossible standards that no one can achieve. Decide what success means for you and how you’ll measure it; then, celebrate your progress.

Thinking back to my reunion, I can tell you that I wasn’t the most financially successful person in the room. I didn’t own the biggest house or have the smallest waist-line. But none of that mattered. I faced those flickers of insecurity and showed up anyway. And taking action despite old feelings of self-doubt turned out to be the best way to strengthen my confidence. I stopped thinking about what people might think of me (truthfully? they probably weren’t thinking about me!) and put my energy towards enjoying my classmates and the party. I think Teddy Roosevelt nailed it when he said:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Don’t let it steal yours.

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