You know that feeling you get when you see someone the same age as you, or younger, doing better than you?
You probably put yourself through hell comparing yourself to others. We all do it. It’s a gut reflex to seeing someone who has what we want.
But here’s the truth: comparing yourself to other people is absurd. It feels right. But it isn’t. And I’m going to tell you why:
Consider the Complexity
People would always tell me to not compare myself to others.
But that seemed impossible if someone was better than me at something. Or if they were making more progress. Or if they had traits I wished I had. I needed to see the bigger picture.
Think of your childhood. Think of your hometown. Think of your early relationships. Think of problems you struggled with.
You probably experienced love, pain, trauma, and culture. You had unique talents, strengths, and weaknesses. You developed around these things.
Think of the complexity of all that. You, as you know yourself, were created somewhere between your interactions with the world and the world’s interactions with you. That means:
Your way of finding meaning in the world is specific to who you are.
And this is true for everyone. We all have unique pasts, fears, biases, needs, and desires. It’s so complex that it would be impossible to say, “She’s just better than me.” Or, “That guy does have it all.”
You’re speaking for yourself. In your eyes, they have it all. But would they say the same?
Comparing yourself to others isn’t like comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing universes — different dimensions with different laws of physics.
What means everything to you could mean nothing to someone else.
You Have ABSOLUTELY No Idea What Goes On in People’s Lives
How much do you really know about the person you’re comparing yourself to?
I’m sure you’re aware of all your insecurities and shortcomings. And I’m sure you think some people have it all. But don’t forget: that guy or girl you wish you were, they have flaws too.
And not just flaws, complexes — we’re talking deep, serious problems. Here are a few possible examples:
- The girl in class who gets straight A’s could be so racked with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-pressure that she fantasizes about harming herself.
- The guy who gets all the girls could be struggling with his own sexuality, and trying to prove to himself he isn't gay.
- The prolific writer could have a life that’s so devoid of human contact that he would burn all his work just to have one meaningful conversation.
You never know what people have going on. And trust me, everyone’s got something.
But what if it’s someone you do know? What if you’re always comparing yourself to a close friend, or someone you care about? Are there times when it’s ok to compare yourself to others?
When Comparing Yourself to Others Makes Sense
We have people that make us feel insecure, but we also have heroes. We have people we strive to emulate.
If you’re trying to improve yourself, then comparing yourself to someone you look up to, and trying to mimic their behavior, could be a great thing.
This could only go south if you make it about self-worth.
You have as much right to live as anyone else, even the people who are miles above you in skill or talent. I know it’s hard not to pedastalize, but they are just as human as you.
If you realize that —
A. You need to respect your own life experience.
B. You can be inspired by and learn from others instead of focusing on how you don't stack up.
C. You can integrate someone else’s traits without trying to be exactly like them.
Then you can compare yourself to others in a healthy way.
Here’s the main idea:
Your battles look different than their battles.
What you need and what you’re looking for is unique to you. Your struggles are personal, and your accomplishments are too.
What About Your Friends?
When something great happens to a friend, you’re happy for them, but it’s also hard not to feel jealous.
This is when it helps to understand that winning is not a zero-sum game. One friend's success doesn’t take away from your potential success.
You could see their success as a source of inspiration. And if they’re really your friend, they would want you to succeed too.
Imagine if you had some success and you found out a close friend was jealous of you. What would you say to them? Wouldn’t you want to remind them of everything they are capable of? Wouldn’t you want them to not feel lesser? Of course, you would.
However, one thing you should never do is hold yourself back so that other people won’t feel insecure. This serves no one and helps nothing. If everyone thought like that, we would get nowhere. There would be no heroes.
So whether you are the jealous one or not, remember that comparing yourself only has worth when you’re trying to improve something. Not when you want what someone else has.
The Biggest Lessons
You will live your life, and other people will live theirs. Instead of comparing yourself to others, learn from them, so you can walk your unique path in a better way.
Being bitter about other people’s success, and making excuses about why they made it and you haven’t, is a sad way of living. Focus on yourself, and what you can do to improve your life.
You can imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but maybe they should try walking a mile in yours. You are the only one you have to compete with.