Afraid You Don’t Measure Up? How to Stop Comparing and Despairing
Do you ever feel a sense of unease when comparing yourself to others? That everyone else seems to be doing what you are. Only better. It’s natural and even beneficial to look to others as inspiration of what's possible. Yet not as a measuring stick for your self-worth. Here are 5 ways to stop comparing yourself unfairly to others so you can be more confident in yourself and stay focused on your own career.
I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm writing a book for women leaders entitled (you guessed it) “Get out of Your Own Way.” I have made a lot of headway and felt pretty proud of myself until I saw on social media that a colleague had just published her book. And it was already a bestseller.
Wait! What? I didn’t even know she was a writer!
Just like that, my self-confidence turned into despair. Rather than seeing my colleague’s accomplishment as a source of inspiration, I made it mean that I couldn’t be as successful too. That in comparison, I didn’t measure up.
Do you ever feel a sense of despair when comparing yourself to others? Consider how often you experience the following:
• You feel threatened by others’ achievements
• You pursue the goals and career path of others rather than your own
• You feel inadequate or envious of others when scrolling on social media
• You believe everyone else in the room is somehow better than you
• You feel discouraged that you won’t be as successful as others
Why Do We Compare and Despair?
Social comparison isn’t about begrudging others their good fortune. It’s driven by our need to measure our self-worth. We use others as a frame of reference to gauge how well we are doing in our own lives and careers. So if you fail at something important, yet everyone else does too, you probably won't feel as bad about yourself than if you were the only one.
Comparing ourselves to others on occasion is entirely natural and can even serve as a source of motivation to work harder and level up our game. There wouldn’t be a problem if we compared ourselves objectively or in ways that boost our self-esteem. It’s that we often do so unfairly. We compare our flaws with others' highlight reels.
You’ll always find someone else who seems to be doing what you are. Only better.
How it Gets in Our Way
If not held in check, our comparing mind can set us up for a destructive cycle of limiting beliefs and self-doubt that hold us back and keep us stuck. It can also divert us from following our path as we chase others’ definitions of success rather than our own. Over time this creates a cycle of small pivots where we lose sight of ourselves and what matters most.
If you find yourself looking over the fence at your neighbor a bit too often to see how you stack up, ask yourself how it might be getting in your way. Chances are it’s holding you back in some way from achieving your goals and realizing your full potential. Here are 5 ways to stop comparing and despairing so you can be more confident in yourself and stay focused on your own career.
1. Others’ Win Doesn’t Mean Your Loss
Linda felt a pit in her stomach as her colleague shared that she had just made a partner at the firm where they started their legal careers. While Linda wanted to be happy for her friend, she couldn't help but worry that it might hurt her own chances for a promotion.
Do you ever feel threatened by someone else's success? If so, it may be because you hold the limiting belief of a zero-sum game - that a win for the other person means a loss for you. While this may be true in some situations, it’s often a result of having a scarcity mindset. It’s as if we believe that opportunities for success are finite, and the other person’s gain eats away at our chances.
Shifting to an abundance mindset allows you to see there's plenty of room for everyone to be successful. When you realize there are sufficient opportunities to go around, you'll see others' accomplishments as having little bearing on yours. As such, you are more likely to stay energized and focused on elevating your performance rather than worrying about theirs.
2. Identify Your Vision of Success
What does a successful career look like for you? Comparison thrives within us when we aren’t clear on who we are and what we really want. We look to others to identify what success should look like and shape our careers in that direction. So before too long, we find ourselves climbing the corporate ladder as our definition of success without questioning if it would make us happy or fulfilled.
When you can identify your vision of success, it allows you to feel less distracted by the goals and pursuits of others. For many of my career clients, serving others in a meaningful way is more important than achieving higher status and pay. Once they gained this clarity, they tended to care less about what others were doing.
One tool that can help you identify this for yourself is a career vision board. Simply put, it’s a collage of images that represents your unique career values and aspirations. This leverages the power of visualization to help you keep your focus on your own career rather than your neighbors.
3. You Only See Part of Their Story
Renee feels jealous and frustrated seeing everyone else's exciting business opportunities, awards, and accomplishments. She enjoys connecting with colleagues through social media, yet it often leaves her feeling depressed and inadequate.
Anyone on social media knows how easy it is to fall prey to the social comparison trap. We often compare the worst part of ourselves with the Instagram-polished version of our peers. The endless stream of professional wins, personal bests, and perfect-hair-day images can trigger anyone’s FOMO and feelings of inadequacy. It’s as if everyone else is crushing it. And we’re not.
Research has shown that the more time people spend on social media, the more likely they believe others have happier and more successful lives.
Most of us realize that what we see online isn’t always a true reflection of others’ reality. It’s only part of their story. So you only see your colleague’s post about her impressive new role. Not the five previous rejections she received before landing this job.
You don’t need to swear off social media. It’s a great way to network and stay connected. Just maintain a healthy perspective and resist the tendency to use it as a measuring stick for your self-worth.
4. Focus on Your Unique Strengths
When she enters a room, Sarah often concludes that everyone else is more intelligent, talented, and capable. In her mind, she doesn't measure up.
Have you ever convinced yourself that everyone else is more competent and accomplished than you? If you struggle with impostor syndrome, comparison to others often triggers insecurity and self-doubt.
We often overlook what makes us unique and special when comparing ourselves to others. Yet, focusing on your strengths can shift your perspective so you can use them to your advantage.
Maybe Anna is a great public speaker. But you are a fantastic writer. So while she might be able to deliver a better keynote speech, you can express your ideas more powerfully through articles and blogs.
5. Be Your Benchmark for Success
Cynthia becomes discouraged when she compares herself to others she perceives as more established. She doesn't believe she can achieve the same level of success for herself.
One of the toxic things about social comparison is that it can serve as a powerful deterrent for pursuing our goals. When we compare ourselves to others, we often focus on all the positive qualities and achievements other have, but we lack. The mountain in front of us feels too challenging to climb. We become discouraged. We get stuck.
Yet, when we use our progress as the benchmark for success, it motivates us to keep going. We realize that a portion of the mountain that leads to our success is already behind us. We feel energized to push forward. We achieve our goals.
When it comes to writing my book and, well, pretty much everything in my life, I’ve had to quell my urge to compare myself with others who are further along in their careers. I still use their example as a source of inspiration of what is possible for me. But I don’t let it dissuade me from carving out my own path.
Want to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others?
It’s okay to compare yourself to others on occasion. But not as an excuse to beat yourself up for not measuring up.
If you find yourself falling prey to the social comparison trap more often than you’d like, pay attention to your triggers. Are there certain situations or people that elicit this tendency? If so, ask yourself what you may be making the comparison mean about yourself.
Do you want to achieve more of your career goals? If so, please reach out to me to learn how I can help. You are also welcome to schedule a 30-min consultation call with me to learn how coaching can help you "get out of your own way" so you can achieve your goals and realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, PCC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator
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