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.
Don’t compare yourself to others. We don’t all need the same things out of life. We don’t have to covet the same goals either.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
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.
8 thoughts on “Stop Comparing Yourself to Others”
I think you’re right that comparison makes us unhappy about our own lives. I read a book about materialism and one of the interesting things it pointed out is that we have not become happier as a nation as our incomes have risen- we keep wanting more. The article pointed out that people used to live in neighborhoods where earnings were similar, and coveted things that were achievable on their income. Now, everyone compares themselves to Kim Kardashian. And everyone on TV is rich! Everyone!
Social media is the worst though. We tend to think that people’s lives are like their Facebook page. But nobody posts the bad stuff. Facebook is like a highlight reel, and it doesn’t contain stress, or meltdowns or marriage problems, or messes of any kind.
I’m getting better about avoiding comparison, but it’s so easy to do. I think it’s part of the human condition, but it’s worth trying to do less of it.
I see the social media impacts in teenagers. When I was a kid I went home for the evening and had absolutely no idea what my friends were doing until I saw them the next day at school. Now the kids watch live updates on social media! It’s so unhealthy. They think all their friends are happier and having more fun. I think these young kids are going to have a much higher hurdle to jump to get over the jealousy than I ever did. My heart breaks for them.
Your comment about realizing you don’t really like to travel really struck a chord with me! I’ve always held traveling as a goal that means I’ve reached a level of financial independence. I’m always looking at travel bloggers on Instagram, etc., but every time I get home from a trip, I’m drained rather than invigorated. I think I need to rethink how I envision spending a successful retirement… Thank you for this!!
Thank you for your comment. It’s actually kind-of funny that I coveted travel without realizing that I don’t really enjoy it much myself. Now when I see friend’s photographs I think “good for them” then I ask “do I want that for myself?”
A very old friend of mine constantly makes remarks about buying upscale and pricey clothing , bedding and home goods. I try not letting this get me down because I think “oh, I should buy that stuff too but I can’t afford it“. Then I think I don’t know how we’ve stayed friends for so long! Strange phenomenon!
When this used to happen to me I tried to remind myself that “stuff” doesn’t really matter. I have more money now that I used to and I suddenly want less than I’ve ever wanted before. When your friend tells you all that she has in material possessions ask yourself if you have ‘more’ in non-material ways.
This really speaks to me. I, too, have constantly struggled with comparing myself with others (and finding myself falling short) especially in my younger years. I am, however, trying to discern and forge my own path now. I’m slowly gaining the confidence to pursue the things that i know to be impt. To me instead of the things/achievements that I “should” pursue. Thank you for sharing this. It validated my feelings and let me know that I’m not alone.
Thank you for your comment. You are definitely not alone!