5 steps to stop comparing yourself to others
I’ve been hearing a lot of people comparing themselves to others recently – always finding themselves short in some way. At some point, almost everyone struggles with the comparison game – comparing yourself to those around you and thinking they are better – they have better jobs, they are more successful in their jobs, people like them more, they are more beautiful, they are skinnier, they look better in the shirt your both own, their husband is more supportive, their kids are better behaved…
I used to feel like this. At life stages where I felt more insecure, I felt like this a lot. Honestly, I never thought about it much. I just thought that was the way life worked, there were always people that had it better than you. It kind of sucks, but that was life.
How tragedy helped me see understand jealousy and comparison differently
One day this all changed for me. I can remember the day so clearly. It was the week after my second miscarriage. I was feel raw, angry, sad, deflated, broken. But I didn’t skip work, I showed up, attended meetings, reviewed reports, finalized deliverables. That day we got great news that one of our grants had been accepted. We were super excited about the project and couldn’t wait to get started. The same day, we submitted a proposal for another project we thought could really build on some of our existing work. From a work perspective, it was a great day. Even in my devastation, I could tell these were good things, even if I couldn’t muster quite the same excitement.
That afternoon, I had my regular touch base with a colleague, a senior staff member on my team that I greatly respected and admired. Our meeting got a little side-tracked talking about these projects, then what we were going to do on the weekend. I can’t remember the details, but I was obviously doing something with my husband and 2 year old. All of a sudden, she blurted out, “wow, you have the perfect life.” I could see the admiration in her eyes. I could see her jealousy. I could see her playing that comparison game.
This brilliant, beautiful, successful woman was looking at the image of my life from the outside and imagining perfection. She didn’t see the fact that I had cried for hours on the floor in the living room just a couple of days ago. She couldn’t feel the pain of losing not one, but two pregnancies. She couldn’t see the ways in which I was spinning out, because my life plan –like the timing between my children – was slipping between my fingers. She couldn’t see that I had shared the loss of my first pregnancy with people, but none of my close friends had experienced a miscarriage, so what they thought were kind and supportive words, sometimes sent me down a dark hole of loneliness and isolation.
Yes, I had a wonderful 2 year old. Yes, it was a very good work day. But my life was so far from perfect in that moment.
Is it a picture perfect version of our best life or a lie?
As I left work, I opened Instagram. There was a stunning photo of one of my girlfriends with her kids and her husband. It was one of those picture-perfect moments, a beautiful family, living a glamorous life. But we had just spoken a week ago, right before my second miscarriage and she was struggling. She had experienced depression several times in her life and it was back. She felt so overwhelmed by work and the kids, that she didn’t even feel like she had time to deal with the depression the way she had in the past. She was lost, emotional, drained, overwhelmed. As she had poured her heart out, I knew this was one of the lowest points in her life. So the picture perfect family photo had nothing to do with life at the moment.
As I looked at this photo, I got a text from a girlfriend whose marriage was in a very bad place. She had just asked her husband, who had been sleeping in the guest room for months, to look for an apartment. The message was about whether my son wanted to have a playdate that weekend.
I got on the subway feeling overrun by emotions. I couldn’t even process them all. I had this moment of feeling like everything was a lie. As if we all lead two different lives, the real one and the one we project. As I stood on the busy subway, I started looking at the faces around me – something I don’t often do on the subway. I looked hard. I saw a woman, beautifully dressed, with her hair and makeup all done up, holding back tears. I saw an old man with a walker try to sit down in a chair and then fumble through his newspaper. I saw a young couple talking to each other, clearly in a new relationship – still awkward together, but very focused on each other and no one else. I saw a middle-aged woman open her phone and look at pictures, her face lighting up. It’s been over 3 years, and I can still replay this scene so intensely in my mind.
Sharing your authentic self
I then got a seat. As I sat down, squeezed between two people, I had one of those moments where it feels like the world shifts under your feet. We were not all lying. I never lied about my miscarriage. My girlfriend wasn’t lying when she posted the picture of her family. We were reserving our true selves, the hard things in life for a select group of people.
I never told that colleague about my miscarriages or the year of infertility that came after it. It wasn’t appropriate. I was her boss. Our relationship was about work. I really enjoyed her company and had often thought that if we went to grad school together, we probably would have been very good friends, but we didn’t. We worked together.
There is so much going on under the surface that you don’t know about. While one aspect of someone’s life might look incredible from the outside, you rarely know the whole story. To be clear, sometimes that aspect might be amazing, but it doesn’t mean their whole life is amazing.
How easy it is to get sucked into the comparison game
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Beth (the co-author of this post) about Balancing Bravely. We had both experienced career revelations around the same time in 2018 and were both inspired to start a blog in the process. We are very close and honest friends, and she said to me in one of those moments of vulnerability “sometimes it feels like we started in the same place and now you are so far ahead of me”.
I looked at her, stunned for a moment. She is one of the most inspiring people I know – have you read her post on excuses vs reasons? If not you must do it immediately, it’s mind blowingly good. She has an extremely challenging job as a counselor that has completely drained everything out of her. She is pulling herself out of depression, while raising her two kids, planning a career move, and building a blog on the side. Every time I talk to her I’m astounded by her self-awareness and her ability to even call bullshit on herself (and me).
As my mind refocused, I responded, “maybe, but we are not on the same path. A lot of what you are going through is the work I did after my miscarriages and infertility. Plus, you are exploring career changes at the same time.”
After I left, I thought about it, and I could see that at this moment in time, it could seem like I have my life put together. I’m definitely at a high in life right now – I quit my job, I started my own company, I have 2 beautiful boys and a supportive husband, I’ve launched my passion project, Balancing Bravely. Yes, this phase is definitely a high for me. But this stage will not last forever, no stage ever does, and far more importantly, that discounts all of the time, the effort, and the tears that got me here. No two people’s struggles are the same and no two people will process them in the same way.
What to do when you start comparing yourself to others
I sent this post to Beth, wanting to know whether it was okay if I published it – since it got so personal about her. Her response was incredible – not only did she say yes, Beth’s solution-focused mind created these 5 steps when you start comparing yourself to others.
1. Take your social media feeds with a grain of salt.
These are (literally) snapshots of someone's life and typically elements they want to remember. Of course it's going to look idyllic at times, doesn't yours? If needed, limit your social media time on days that you are feeling most insecure.
2. Be honest and vulnerable with trusted allies.
When I was feeling low, comparing my "lack of progress" to Julia's relative blogging success, I initially felt defeated. It brought up insecurities in me, and negative self talk. I focused on the qualities and skills she possesses that I don't have. When I named those feelings to her, something beautiful happened. The conversation shifted into a celebration of our differing skills and qualities.
3. Building on honesty and vulnerability, use comparison as a motivator rather than a deterrent.
Instead of me using my energy on lamenting that Julia is more self-disciplined than me (which she unquestionably is!), I listened to what she said she feels she needs support on. I became energized by our complementary strengths. This isn't a competition. Her blogging success doesn't cancel out mine. In fact, we both have so much to offer each other that pushes us both to be better version of ourselves.
4. Pay attention to who you're comparing yourself to - is it based in reality?
So often we end up comparing ourselves to someone that doesn't exist, whether it be the friend with the "perfect life", the person we were "supposed to be" by age 35, or some ideal superwoman who "has it all". What if instead you compared yourself to a person that you could REALISTICALLY see yourself becoming and use it as a basis for goal setting. What would a more organized version of me look like? How could an ideal day look?
5. Find your contentment
So many people strive for happiness as if it is an end point. Happy is a feeling, and just like any other feeling, it can be fleeting. Contentment is more of a foundation, a pillow to land on. What is working for you? What are you doing now that would impress your 18 year old self? your 5 year old self? or even 75 year old self? Accept was is working, so you can face what you'd like to make work better.
How are you going to walk away from the comparison game?
Julia & Beth