Dare to compare! (written by Career Expert, Pete Leibman)

There is a quote that states that “Comparison is the root of all unhappiness and the ruin of all self-esteem.” (My apologies for not knowing who this quote should be attributed to.)

However, while comparisons CAN be dangerous, I disagree with the absoluteness of this quote. Before discussing when I believe comparisons can be good, let’s first discuss when they can be bad.

Imagine it’s a sunny, summer day and you gather a few friends to go for a nice hike up to the top of a beautiful mountain. You drive to the start of the trail and begin to unpack your gear, but when you get to the base of the mountain, you look up to the summit and notice there is a small group of people standing there already. Would you think to yourself that something is wrong with you because you are not there yet?  Of course not. Why not? Because you realize that the other group simply started their climb before you, and that you too can reach the top of the mountain. Their progress has no impact on whether you can climb the mountain as well.

However, when it comes to our careers, we often make this mistake. We look at people who appear to have already “climbed the mountain,” and we think to ourselves that something is wrong with us because we are still at the base. If you are doing this, stop! Standing at the base of the mountain feeling sorry for yourself won’t get you up the mountain any faster. Just start climbing!

Let me share a personal example to illustrate the dangers of  looking at comparisons from the other side: when you compare yourself to others who are not doing something as well as you are. 

I remember taking a group exercise class at my gym in Arlington, Virginia on a Sunday night back in 2008. We usually had about 20 people attend the class, and as a former college athlete, I was always one of the most athletic people in the class. During one of the drills, the instructor had us sprinting backwards from one side of the room to the other and then back again.

As I neared the end of the first full lap, I glanced at the mirror on the side of the room and noticed that I was considerably further ahead of the rest of the class. For a split-second, I thought to myself, “Wow, I am so much faster than everyone in here!” I remember feeling really good about myself BECAUSE I was ahead of everyone else. However, my lead was about to evaporate, along with my sense of personal satisfaction.

About 1 second later, my legs got tangled up, and I proceeded to fall backwards onto my head as if I was trying to do a backwards somersault. As I picked myself up and tried to use a big smile to mask my extreme embarrassment, I noticed that I had almost instantly gone from first to last on this lap. Because I got complacent and lost my focus, even only for a second, the entire class (including a 60 year-old woman) ended up finishing the drill before me! I learned a valuable lesson that day. It can be dangerous to derive satisfaction out of being ahead of someone else. Only focus on being better than your previous self. It’s all you can control and all that matters anyway!

So, how can comparisons be good? Well, comparisons can be beneficial if (and only if) you use them as “proof” and inspiration that you can accomplish something you never have before.

When I was 6 years old, my father was teaching me and my younger brother Matt (4 years old at the time) how to ride a bike. After a few weeks, we were getting closer, but we were still unable to ride on our own. One Saturday morning before I was awake, Matt walked into my parent’s room and said, “Dad, I’m ready!” So, my father took him out to the field we always practiced at, and Matt successfully rode a bike for the first time without any help.

When Matt and my dad got home and Matt told me what he had done, I thought to myself “if my younger brother can do it, I KNOW I can.” So, I told my dad to take me to the field as well. Guess what happened? I successfully rode my bike for the first time as well.

Regardless of where you are in your career today, if you look around enough, you will certainly be able to find people who are “ahead” of you, either because they already have a job you want or because they have achieved some level of success you are aspiring to. For me, this occurs when I look at other Gen Y speakers who have written best-selling books. I occasionally start to feel like something is wrong with me because I have not reached that “summit” YET, despite the fact that all of these people started climbing the “mountain” way before I did.

However, when I re-frame this and tell myself that I can do it since others have already paved the way, I immediately start to feel better because I am using comparisons in a supportive way. Rather than getting down on myself, I realize that I can climb the mountain as well.

In summary, dare to compare! Just do it in a way that inspires you! There is an unlimited supply of career success available to the world. If someone else is successful, it does not mean that you can’t do the same thing. Instead, it means that you too can achieve professional “fitness” (i.e. career success). Start climbing today and keep climbing, and you will reach the top of your mountain as well!

Thanks for reading!

-Pete Leibman

President of Idealize Enterprises, LLC

President of BetterFitness BetterHealth, LLC


Explore posts in the same categories: Attitude, Confidence

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