How often do you compare yourself?

Today is December 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you compare yourself?” People who navigate the chaos seldom make the mistake of comparing themselves to others. Two of the most common quotes related to comparison are “Comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the death of joy” by Mark Twain. Inter-personally, comparison is most often negative and unproductive. It rarely serves us well.

Jon Accuf, a New York Times bestselling author wisely counsels, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” And we all know (or should) that what people project on social media and/or their holiday card may or may not accurately depict how they are really doing in any given aspect of life.


Actor Tina Fey noted "Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, or through and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it." Comparing yourself to anyone is a fool’s errand and those who are in the process of translating their dreams into reality have no time for such foolish endeavors. American actress and author Octavia Lenora Spencer told a graduating class:


“The journey you take now will be led by you alone. Let me say that again. The journey you take now will be led by you alone. Don’t let that scare you, oh no, let that liberate you. Remember, no one came here the same way, and you won’t all achieve success the same way. But because you all have shaped your path to graduation in a way that is uniquely and undeniably yours, I am pretty confident that you will continue to do that. But as you move forward, please, please, please, oh please, don’t let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison. You know what I’m talking about. Ignore the silly 30-Under-30 list that the internet throws at you before you’ve even had your morning cup of coffee. Those will be the bane of your existence post-graduation, trust me. Trust me. Comparing yourself to other’s success only slows you down from finding your own.”


Psychologists refer to our comparing ourselves to others as social comparison theory. Money is the one area where we compare ourselves to others most. Sadly. As Carl Richards wrote in a February 9, 2015 New York Times article “When an objective measurement isn’t an option, we compare ourselves to what we see around us. We rely on these visual shortcuts — cars, houses, vacations — to figure out where we fit. Have we done better or worse? But our desire for validation comes with some serious blind spots. Income is relative to so many other factors that both the number of dollars earned and how they appear to be spent make for a worthless comparison. Your neighbor may drive an older car so he can retire early. Your cousin may earn $100,000 a year compared to your $50,000, but it comes with a two-hour commute and weekend commitments. We simply don’t know.”

Today’s reflection, however, challenges us to go further than asking how often we compare ourselves to others. We must also ask ‘does it matter?’ And the answer is a resounding no.


As Richards concluded “But here’s the kicker. It doesn’t matter. There is only one comparison that does matter. Do you have enough for you? Not enough for someone else, the people on an imaginary app or even your neighbor, but for you. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to put away the yardstick and get on with life.” With the advent of social media during the last decade, the ability to compare ourselves with others around the world has substantially increased. Recent research has noted, however, not all social media usage is used for comparison or has negative consequences.


In a November 2019 article "Association of Social Media Use With Social Well-Being, Positive Mental Health, and Self-Related Health: Disentangling Routine Use From Emotional Connection to Use," researchers identified a nuanced approach to social media.


“Routine social media use-as part of everyday routine and responding to content that others share-is positively associated with the three health outcomes measured: social well-being, positive mental health, and self-related health. Emotional connection to social media. for example, checking apps excessively out of fear of missing out, being disappointed about or feeling disconnected from friends when not logged into social media-is negatively associated with all three outcomes. In more general terms, these findings suggest that if we are mindful users, routine use may not in itself be a problem. Indeed, it could be beneficial.”


Those who navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality get on with their life each day. Comparing themselves to others occupies little, if any, of their time. By all means spend time on social media but if you do so in order to compare yourself to others it will be difficult, if not impossible to translate one dream after another into reality.


How often do you make the mistake of comparing yourself to others?