This is What Happens When You Compare Yourself to Others

There’s something magical about the night, it whispers potential. Dreams of creative success become achievable as you plan your day, your month, your life. You compare yourself to others in a positive way and it’s easy to imagine getting there. You could be like those organised people who get it all done by 6 AM. Or manage a 4-hour workweek by doing what you love for a 6 figure salary. As you go to bed, you think, ‘this is all achievable’.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug.

But in the grey light of morning, you’re starting from scratch. You’re staring at your laptop with a cooling cup of coffee at your elbow, miles of work away from where those successful people are: where you want to be. Everything feels as unrealistic as a new year’s resolution. Thought you were slow before? now you’re not moving at all.

This is what happens when you compare yourself to others. There’s always someone who’s already doing really well at the exact thing you want to be doing. And if you start to focus on the wrong things, it isn’t long before you feel insecure and inadequate.

This is why Theodore Roosevelt claimed, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Your awareness of others can rob you of your happiness if it’s tied to what you’re trying to achieve.

It’s human nature to compare

It’s not inherently bad to compare yourself to others. We’ve been doing it since the dawn of civilisation. You can picture cave people thinking, ‘Does that tribe have more food than us? where did they get that massive bison?’ Value judgements based on comparisons are how we make choices every minute of the day. We compare ourselves to others who are worse off when we want to feel better about ourselves. But, we also can’t help comparing ourselves to those who’ve achieved the highest level of creative success when we want to emulate it.

Naturally, we find ourselves wanting.

Self-doubt, writer’s block and procrastination inevitably follow. So how do you stop comparing yourself to others?

Recognise that some people are faster than others

It doesn’t take everybody years to do something. Some people achieve what you’ve been trying to do for the last 5 years in 6 months. Some people. They’re not the majority. And even if they were, they’re not you. People are different, we move at different paces. It takes time to grow. You don’t know how to progress right now, but you’ll figure it out.

It takes some time to accept that you may have to get less done. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable. The reality of what you can achieve in the time you have is usually way less than you think. And making yourself feel terrible for not ‘keeping up’ won’t get you there any faster.

If this is the pace of your life, then that’s fine. What you can do, how much you can achieve is entirely personal. It’s a marathon (or a charity fun run), not a sprint. Remind yourself you’re there for the finish line and not the other runners.

You’re comparing yourself to the wrong people

The expectations we have are by their very nature emotional. It’s about where you’d like to be, based on what success looks or feels like. But since we haven’t reached it yet we have to use others as benchmarks so we can pinpoint where we’d fall on the scale. From there we’re either inspired or deflated.

And it’s usually a shiny blogger cranking out an article a day because they have a staff of 20. Or someone who is fit and healthy, drinking the Huel like it’s going to give them eternal youth (although I must say I haven’t tried it so cannot confirm or deny). It’s someone else with exactly your casting getting ‘all’ the parts. Or that writer you admire who wrote 17 books in two years and you’re left thinking, how?

It’s someone else’s story. Ask them if you’re curious (and they’re not too busy and important to reply). You can bet their journey is nothing like yours though. Here’s the thing. Regardless of their personal journey, you’re only seeing the highlights. It’s either a necessary marketing tool (it’s all about the authority after all) or a personal attempt to show the best of a life that’s not always perfect. Because no one’s life is.

Find your tribe

It’s unrealistic to compare yourself to someone who’s not in the same place as you and will have taken a different route to get there. If you think there is no point in starting because someone is ahead of you, remember no one starts in the middle.

Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Comparison is poison.

Jon Acuff Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters

You are surrounded by people in the same boat trying to stay afloat and looking for support. There are societies, networking events, Facebook groups and the blogs of like-minded people. Hi! Comment on this one.

Black coffee mug with hello badge, achieve creative success together

Also, is a great place to find creative groups in your area, why not give it a try? become part of a community now- you never know where you’ll be a few years down the road. And if you’re an introvert and that sounds exhausting, go with only one and get to know the people who are working towards the same goals you are.

There is no one like you

Your journey will never look exactly like someone else’s because no one can be exactly like you. The way you think, your particular creative process, circumstances and upbringing are unique. Unless you have a twin. But even then your life experiences and perceptions of the world will be different. Why? because we’re individuals even when we’re similar. Your idea of creative success will be completely different from someone else’s. There is no one on earth like you. And each of us has something to offer that no one else has.

compare yourself, unique snowflakes

There will always be someone better

When you compare your creative success to others, there will always be someone better than you. Actors with tons of credits, ‘triple threats’ (when you’re at best a double), bloggers who travel the world and document their amazing experiences. Writers with better ideas. And they all have years of experience on you. As easy as it is to say, you can’t worry about it. We can’t be the best in the world at everything and there aren’t a lot of firsts left. But that doesn’t mean that your gifts have no value at all and are not worth sharing.

The key to remembering your worth is in your own experience. 5 or 10 years ago they were where you are. Now, they’re comparing themselves to those with even more success. That hamster wheel is going to keep turning unless you jump off. Someday you probably will be where they are. But you have to work through this day first. Today all you have to do is what’s in front of you.

Now I hear you saying that time is running out but I ask you, whose time? who set the countdown? You’re still finding you’re feet. That’s ok. It doesn’t matter that you’re older, that they got started as a fetus and have been directing plays since the age of 4. You will never be them so you might as well be you and embrace who and where you are. You will look back on these days and see the progress that wasn’t obvious at the time.

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

Focus on the small things in front of you

You know what you have to do right now even if you don’t particularly want to put the work in today. That’s ok too. Sometimes we need a break to avoid burnout. On days like this, human nature makes us stop and look at the big picture and try to assess where we are in the journey. It’s ok to look but in the end, the only thing we can do is focus back on the plan we have.

Compare yourself to you

If you feel your insecurities getting the better of you, think back to where you were 6 months ago, a year ago, 5 years ago. Are you making progress? Ask yourself why you want this. What does it really mean to you? What does your creative success look like and how will it affect your sense of self? your life? your family? These are the questions you need to find answers to.

You are as much of a work in progress as anyone else. And your choices are transforming you all the time. According to James Clear if you were to get 1% better every day, by the end of the year you’d be 37 times better.

So don’t be blinded by the highlights, Instagram stories and #lazysundays of someone else’s life.

Person wearing grey socks achieving creative success, acoustic guitar, mug of tea

Think about what you could be doing to get to the next step instead. And when you see others a few steps above you, congratulate them and tell them you admire them.

At your worst moments, remember that you’re lapping everyone on the couch when you sit down to work. And guess what? There are others comparing themselves to you right now.

What are some of your answers to the questions above? Let me know where you are on your journey!

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