Ding dong. The doorbell rang, and I darted to the front door to greet my best friend for a sleepover.
“Check out my new clothes,” K screeched as she twirled in a circle. “My mom took me shopping this morning,” she said as she pointed at her off-the-shoulder Benetton sweater and acid-washed Guess jeans.
“Then I got a manicure and pedicure,” she told me as she dangled her bright pink fingernails in front of my eyes.
The year was 1988, and despite being the newest girl in school, K was quickly becoming the most popular.
K’s parents were wealthy. They lived in a giant house in the swankiest neighborhood. K had a dedicated bathroom all to herself and a walk-in closet filled with designer clothes.
My parents didn’t have as much money as K’s did. We lived in a tiny, three-bedroom rancher on the other side of town. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me a new wardrobe every month or spend money on fancy spa excursions.
As I watched K twirl on the lawn, jealousy began to boil inside of me. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.
At that moment, I wanted to be K, or at least I wanted to be more like K and less like myself.
Comparing Yourself to Others
My comparisons started in middle school, but they didn’t stop there. I spent decades comparing myself to others.
In middle school, I wanted to be popular. In high school and college, I wanted to date the cutest boys. It was easy to feel jealous of kids who seemed to get whatever they wanted.
I compared myself to everyone that seemed richer or prettier. What did they have that I didn’t? I never once stopped to ask myself, “What did I have that they might have wanted?”
Comparisons are perfectly normal, but they can also turn ugly. Comparing myself to others never boosted my confidence. The more I compared myself, the worse I felt.
I suffered from low self-esteem.
Social Media Comparisons
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it’s easy to get lost in the picture-perfect images of our friends, family, and neighbors. If you’re not careful, you can waste hours scrolling through social media feeds.
“Why can’t I have what they have,” my friend once asked. “Who is they,” I asked her. “Everyone else in the world,” she answered.
She felt like a failure. She hated her job and struggled through a series of destructive relationships. “My life isn’t going according to plan, but everyone else is so happy,” she told me.
As if comparisons weren’t bad enough, we are now comparing ourselves to our peers’ carefully constructed images.
In 1988 I looked at K’s expensive clothes and dreamed of living a life where I could buy whatever I wanted. After graduating from college, I put my time, effort, and energy into a money-making career.
But in 2006, seven years after graduation, I started to question my path. I was proud of my role as a software engineer, but there was still a deep void.
I began to dream of early retirement and forging a new path towards a more meaningful career. My salary rose over time, but I still felt unfulfilled by my profession.
My friends had meaningful careers as social workers and teachers. What impact was I making on the world? What legacy was I leaving behind?
I was jealous of their dedication to causes bigger than themselves. Saving money felt good, but I began to wonder if there were better uses of my time.
Feeling Comfortable In My Skin
At thirty-four, I decided to leave corporate America to stay-at-home with my first child. My husband fully supported my decision.
I did what I set out to do in 2006. With over a million dollars in the bank, I left the working world.
But I struggled with that decision. I began to question who I was. I found it difficult to remove the latch tied to my former identity as a software engineer. The one that made me feel smart and successful.
My self-worth was wrapped up in a profession I didn’t even love. I didn’t want to return to my former job. I wasn’t jealous of my working peers, but I still lacked confidence in my decision.
Wasn’t this my dream? Didn’t I want to save money to live the life I wanted?
Creating a New Definition of Success
Over time this feeling faded. I stopped comparing myself to the person I thought I should be. I stopped worrying about missed paychecks, bonuses, and promotions.
You can have millions of dollars in the bank and still be a miserable old soul. To be honest, I should’ve learned this lesson sooner. K turned out to be an awful human being. As her popularity grew, she began to treat people like Regina George in Mean Girls.
Shouldn’t kindness, generosity, and empathy matter more than big houses and expensive vacations? I now feel sorry for the people that rank money above all else in the world.
Unfortunately, this realization didn’t come easily. To reach this state, I had to redefine my definition of success. I had to learn to focus less on status symbols and more on everything else that truly matters.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
When we compare ourselves to others, we rob ourselves of setting our own goals. I could have continued to earn a high salary as a software engineer, but I wouldn’t have been happy. If I could go back in time, I would make the same decision all over again. I would sacrifice those dollars for time with my children.
I’ve compared myself to others my whole life. I tried to earn better grades in school and more money after graduation. Every year I weighed my contributions to the company against those who sat in cubicles beside me.
I used those comparisons to figure out who I was and how I ranked among my peers. It’s strange that none of that matters to me now.
For years I felt jealous of friends who traveled around the globe. Then one day, I woke up and realized I don’t love to travel.
Why Shouldn’t You Compare Yourself to Others?
Now, in my early forties, I have a better understanding of myself and those around me. I know that life is not a race. If it were, I would be heading away from the crowd of runners.
We don’t all need the same things out of life. We don’t have to covet the same goals either.
She’s Fired recently commented on a post I wrote about living intentionally. She said, “Keeping my objective in mind also helps keep me from comparing myself with others. I still see work colleagues, and it would be easy to envy their work achievements, but that isn’t MY goal. My goal was retiring early, and I did it.”
It’s important to stop comparing ourselves to others. We can’t reach our full potential if we spend a lifetime chasing after other people’s dreams. We can’t become our best selves if we keep wishing to become someone else.