“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~Lao Tzu
Conventional wisdom suggests that if you want to be happy you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people. Conventional wisdom isn’t always realistic.
Try as you may to completely stop making comparisons, you’ll likely come back to the instinct at least on occasion.
Discontent is part of the human condition—the nagging sense that something’s missing, even when you seem to have it all. We’re constantly evolving, growing, and looking for new ways to expand our impact on the world, new ways to reach and stretch our potential.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you see the pursuit as constant gain instead of the cause as constant lack. And it’s equally harmless to compare yourself to others if it allows you to learn from people you admire.
If you compare yourself to your boss and it motivates you to work smarter, that comparison improved your life for the better.
If you compare yourself to someone your age who started a non-profit, and it inspires you to volunteer, that comparison made a difference in not just your life, but others’, too.
It’s when the comparison game gets you down on yourself that you need to be cautious.
- When you sit around complaining it isn’t fair someone had more advantages instead of working harder to create your own luck
- When you feel paralyzed because you’ve made nowhere near the same progress as someone else in a similar place
- When you convince yourself there’s something wrong with you for not having, achieving, or being like someone else
- When you think you need to compete with someone else to get approval from other people
- When you start thinking you should “have it all” instead of honing in on what you really want—which is the only way to devise a plan to get it
Comparing for the sake of complaining does nothing but hold you back.
There will always be someone smarter, stronger, more attractive, more successful, wiser, healthier, and happier than you. Just like there will always be someone who doesn’t have your potential, advantages, or opportunities. None of it guarantees any of you are happy. And isn’t happiness the main goal in the end?
Choose your comparisons wisely. Find people who’ve done what you actually want to do and use comparisons as motivation to improve.