January 3, 2012
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I believe we all naturally compare ourselves to people we know. We instinctively want to know how much better (or worse) we are compared to them. Do they make more money than we do? Do they have more friends? Do they seem happier than we are? Are they “better” than us?
These are not healthy thoughts. Comparing ourselves and our circumstances to the very limited amount we know about other’s lives is dangerous. It is a set up for failure. Here’s why.
We can never know enough about another person’s life to make an accurate comparison with our own life. We don’t see it when the person earning $200k per year goes home to an empty apartment and drinks himself to sleep. We may see others with more “friends” than we have; but what we miss is the fact that no one really knows the person, and he has no close friends that he can count on. And if we think others are “happier” or “better” than we are, we probably don’t appreciate what we have all that much.
So go ahead and make comparisons if you wish. But understand that you will usually come out looking inferior – because you don’t have all the facts about other’s lives and rarely can get them all. It’s not fair.
There is a better way.
Instead of comparing yourself to another person, compare yourself to the person you were 10 or 20 years ago. Unless you haven’t made any attempts at all to improve yourself, you are probably a better person today than you were then.
Personal example: I knew a lot more 20 years ago than I do now. I was infallible (and probably unbearable at times.) Now I regularly pause and question my own judgment in a healthy way, as I’ve learned that being infallible carries a terrible price in human relationships. Twenty years ago I was going to change the world; now I’ll be grateful to change 1 or 2 of my own bad habits. This isn’t discouraging for me. It tells me I’ve matured in at least one area of my life. My perspective is healthier.
Compared to the person I was 20 years ago, I’m a much better person. At least I think so. And I’m much more effective in working with others than when I was the Infallible One.
So if you want a fair and realistic comparison, look back at who you were and how you have grown. I think this is a lot more satisfying and motivating than comparing yourself to people whom you really don’t know and in many ways can’t know well enough to see the full spectrum of their experiences.
If you are going to make comparisons, make helpful and positive comparisons rather than comparisons where you are guaranteed to come in second – or worse.