Everything’s humming along fine in your life, when suddenly you land on the website of a peer, and a note on the home page informs you that they’ve just won a prestigious award and landed a book deal.
Or you’re on Facebook, in a pretty good mood, until your glance lands on a status update from a high school acquaintance, crowing about how well their latest Oprah interview went.
Or you meet someone at a party and discover they started a business in the same niche as you, a few years after you did. You’re ready to start dispensing some helpful wisdom, until you discover that their business growth has been exponential–a hockey stick, compared to your slow upward curve.
It makes your stomach clench, that discouraging feeling that everyone else is blasting forward, while you’re falling behind in the race of life.
The Comparison Trap
I call this the Comparison Trap, and sometimes I feel like I step into it daily. (Sometimes several times a day!)
The thing is, living in an online universe, we’re regularly flooded with shining examples of people who are steps ahead of us. Heck, as a podcaster, I’m regularly interviewing heroes of mine, people who seem way beyond me at creating their vision, developing their business, achieving their dream. Envy, that familiar green face, rears its ugly head, and it’s all too easy to feel badly about myself for not making as much money/for not being as prolific/for not having as large a following/for not being as successful as the person I admire.
It’s an interesting position to be in: the internet has made it so easy to find role models to inspire us, which is certainly a blessing! But the blessing comes with a curse: now we’re all in a prime position to be caught in the Comparison Trap, consumed with envy and bad feelings.
“Why does [Person X] get all the luck?” you might think, and conclude “I am such a loser in comparison!”
Some days it’s enough to make a person want to crawl into a cave. “Compare and Despair Syndrome,” I’ve heard it called, because that’s what we do: we compare ourselves to others, and we despair.
How to Armor Up Against Compare and Despair Syndrome
I’ve come to the conclusion that my struggle with envy and the Comparison Trap may plague me in one way or another for the rest of my life. But that’s okay, because when you understand your adversary, you can better arm yourself against it.
My armor? Anything and everything that will help me remember the Benign Reality: That I am really and truly okay. That my value lies in my uniqueness. That the more I vibrate at my own energy and follow my own, unique path, the more I will attract the people that resonate with me and situations that benefit me.
The components of this armor include:
1. A team of champions — people who love me and believe in me, even when I can’t believe in myself. (Anyone who doesn’t qualify can — and should — be weeded from my friendship garden with impunity.)
2. Teachers and sages who remind me of Benign Reality, whether in person or in print.
3. Mantras/affirmations/validations — whatever you want to call them. Combinations of words that remind me of my worth.
4. Inspirational art/music/poetry to buoy me up.
And most of all:
5. The understanding that comparing myself to others is never useful. Each of us is truly incomparable!
As Martha Graham is credited as saying:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
To help myself remember, I created the calligraphic artwork below, from this mantra that sprang into my head: “Why compare myself to others? There’s no comparison!” I hope you find it helpful!
Now go forth and be you!
Featured photo credit: Philadelphia Bike Race – flying off Lemon Hill by bk at Flickr via flickr.com