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Day 27 - Compare & Despair

Level 12

My advice to my younger self?

To compare is to despair.

I think about how much angst, stress, and time I would have saved had I appreciated this when I was younger. I also would have spared myself some seriously questionable fashion and style choices (say it with me, bangs are BAD on T Nels).

And I didn’t grow up in the age of social media with its nearly endless stream of comparative fodder. Small blessings.

To compare is to despair.

I tell myself this every day. It’s been my mantra for the last two years and started with a dear friend who I’ve known for nearly 20 years. She’s my “sister from another mister” and the godparent of my children.

High-profile in our industry, she’s pursued by organizations to pontificate on all things brand and social. She hob-nobs with impressive glitterati and has interviewed a former First Lady. She manages a large global customer success team and navigates interactions with titans of industry each and every day with grace and confidence. She’s polished, poised, never fails to send the perfectly written thank you note (and her kids do, too!), and her Christmas cards are ALWAYS on time. 

She is my mother’s FAVORITE daughter (and I’m an only child).

For years, I struggled with this. How could she be at the top of her game, while I felt that I was just getting by? Our paths were largely the same: we graduated from the same university, started our careers at the same company, married around the same time… While my biggest, unique accomplishment is having seen every single episode of Law & Order SVU. At least twice.

One day, I stopped. I took a deep breath and realized that we each made choices that lead us down our respective paths. I can’t speak for her, but I wouldn’t change any of the choices that I made, because they were best for me.

I chose to have my kiddos early rather than put them off for my career, because I was already tired.

I chose to stay in Austin rather than travel for other opportunities, because I love the heat and love this town.

I chose a career that puts me more in the background, because I love to see others shine.

I chose to binge-watch all manner of TV shows, because I prefer the comfort and quiet of home to a packed schedule of networking events.

Sure, I could have picked a different path, jumped to page 23 instead of page 56 in my “Choose Your Own Adventure” to be where she is. But, then again, I might have ended up in an entirely different place, missing all of the things I cherish today.

I realized that not only was upward social comparison unproductive, but that downward social comparison was also doing something funky to me: making me less sensitive and appreciative of other people’s unique situations. Turns out the “compare and despair” thing actually works both ways. 

So now, I do my best each day to take a step back and stop myself before I compare myself to anyone else. I am not always successful, but I’m at least more thoughtful about it now. I find that I’m better at celebrating my bigger accomplishments, and more appreciative and prouder of my smaller ones, too. I stopped sweating every tiny difference, every little choice, and just settled into what was right for me.

And, I find that I have a lot more grace and goodwill to go around.

27 Comments
Level 11

Comparing yourself to others is one thing I think we can all relate to.  And also to realise that when we do this, we likely come off worse than the person we're comparing ourselves to.

We are our own star in the sky, and whilst we may not be the brightest out there, we're still in the sky none the less.  Others will compare themselves to thee and feel the same, so dont feel bad that you're not the brightest star in your eyes, as in someone's universe you will be!

Humility is one of the hardest, and best lessons you can learn.  Being humble is a wonderful trait, and something that should be aspired towards.  So remember, aim for the stars, but even if you miss you'll still hit the sky.

MVP
MVP

Every one of us is unique, with your post highlighting that the ability to look within ourselves and see what makes us 'tick'. Keeping up with the Jones's is an expression which fits this post well. The measure of success is not money, the car you drive, the house you live in, which university you went to, it is the finding on happiness for yourself and those close to you.

To observe, compare, and judge others is a pretty natural thing. How else can you decide what you might like to experience next or not? When I read this TiffanyNels​ my take away is not to let this examination of others determine your own value or worth.

I am but one of 7.5 billion a live today and 108 billion who have ever lived​​ on earth. Your friend too is but one of them holding a unique position in space, time, and her societal surroundings. Like the rest of us her experience and preparedness allowed her to take advantage of opportunities as they were presented. Putting her in a unique position which you get to observe. But aren't we all. I am the only husband, IT manager, Great Uncle, brother, son, nephew, dog owner, Italian/Polish American, BEEE & MSEE earner, living in this house in Iowa [with a bocce court] - I am unique. Even if there are parallel universes and an infinite number of similar mes, I am the one who exists on this earth with this timeline.

All of that said, it does not determine our worth. It is a struggle at times when our mind goes in search of meaning to not underestimate your own value. What do I bring to this world? What am I doing here? Our only real choice is to look around at others and try to assess ourselves against them. It is all subjective, there isn't an objective external measure. At one time or another everything we read was interpreted by one of those 108 billion who judged it important enough to be passed on. It leaves us here and now with a collection of thoughts and our observation of others, thru various means, to determine who we are and want to be.

Level 12

We need to be comfortable in our own skin and accept the fact that we are each unique. It's healthy to take an honest assessment of where you are and where you want to be, but when your only goal is to be the carbon copy of someone else....then that's when it takes the unhealthy route.

Level 15

Very insightful, and kudos for finding your solace! I strongly believe that a significant level of discomfort in our lives comes from us looking over the fence at what we perceive to be greener pastures (and the ones we think are less green; judging others is exhausting). I've learned, mostly through failure, that appreciating my own blades of grass is much more satisfying than worrying about my neighbors'. I'll be here if they need help watering, but otherwise I wish them well and hope for the same.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

- Theodore Roosevelt

MVP
MVP

A most excellent thought. I like that phrase - To compare is to despair.

How often do we get trapped by the comparison trap. We are meant to be us, not someone else, yet we see what others have/do/like/enjoy and we think that we have to want the same things. What we really need is contentment.

Level 10

'The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.' - Walt Disney

Level 9

I think it is human nature to compare ourselves to others. You are wise to work to stop yourself from doing so. We are all different.  We have different desires, ambitions, and skills. No two of us are the same, not even identical twins. Understanding your needs; whether natural or perceived, will help you make the right choices for you. You can’t compare yourselves to others because you inherently are not the same. Be happy with who you are and do your best in all you do.

Level 9

An excellent post, Tiffany.  My wife and I just had a similar conversation with our children.  It started almost the same way, "We didn't grow up in the age of social media".  It is so easy now for kids to compare themselves to the latest Instagram star and feel inferior but everyone seems surprised to learn that suicide rates have been steadily increasing for the last 10 years. We have tried to teach them to be themselves and to understand that those "stars" just have a different set of problems.  A good friend once said to me, "I could be you but I probably wouldn't be very happy".  He was joking at the time but it was a good quote and I have used it many times.

MVP
MVP

my wife jokes with me about this - and is grateful that I'm the way I am.

just as well really

Level 8

Social media started really becoming a "thing" when I was in middle school and high school, and has become something of an addiction for me and for many in my generation.

It's so easy to compare our lives to other peoples on social media, but it's important to remember that what you see on social media is NEVER the full story. Social media is merely a filter through which we present the parts of our lives that we want other people to see, "like," and comment on. I am happier when I am off social media (I have a horrible habit of coming back to it though), and that's probably because I am subconsciously comparing my full life to the selected parts of their life that people are sharing.

Your advice, to take a step back before comparing, is going to be at the forefront of my mind the next time I pop on Facebook!




Level 14

Outstanding article!  I agree completely..."compare and despair" is not a very worthwhile endeavor.  However, self reflection and learning from mistakes is most certainly worthwhile.  The key difference between the two is sincerity.  The example you provided about your kids is spot on.  You are sincere in saying that you wouldn't want to change anything about that (I share that opinion for myself), but meanwhile someone else might have kids later on or not at all and sincerely believe it was the right choice.  Perspective and personal choice of direction are of the utmost importance, in regards to achieving sincere happiness.  Thanks for writing this!

Level 10

Competitive spirit is good but "to compare is to despair".

Good write-up. A right balance is extremely needed, especially in this age of social media.

This is a good write up.   I learned all too often that the compare idea will never work, its ok to strive to improve yourself, but be yourself.   its probably why thou shall not covet is one of the ten commandments.   comparing yourself in any way, skills, physical, mental, financial, is way to damaging to who you are and the potential of who you might be.  You be you, grow and learn who you and it will be good. 

MVP
MVP

That haunting feeling when you compare yourself to others is all too familiar. It can also tie in quite well with impostor syndrome as you compare yourself to others in your field. As other comments before have said, "you be you". Everyone brings a little something to the table.

Level 9

Don't spend too much time dwelling on the losses.. it's just keeping you away from the wins

Level 10

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Both of my sisters were the "good" kids. I struggled to try and keep up, but eventually learned that my family never looked down on me and I was worrying for no reason. I'm still struggling with the idea to this day, though. For example my mother just found out about something which she disapproves of greatly. Both of my sisters would never do this thing. I don't care! I'm me, and that's worth something.

Interesting perspective...

"I realized that not only was upward social comparison unproductive, but that downwardsocial comparison was also doing something funky to me:"

Many people wonder how they would react if they were visited by 3 ghosts like Scrooge was. A friend of mine posted this scary notion on FB:

An apparition appears in your room, alongside a more successful looking doppleganger of yourself.

Apparition: "-and this is what you would be!"

Doppleganger: "Oh my god Spare me these twisted visions, specters. I've learned my lesson!"

(both vanish)

You: What the...?

I like your perspective on “you wouldn’t change your choices because they brought you where you are” this is also my “mantra” as long as you are happy with your overall situation, your choices in the past brought you here, so they were good choices.

Level 12

this is why i do not indulge in social media i take things to heart and it just brings me down

Level 13

Social media -- UGGGGGGG

Level 12

I propose this thought in how to compare yourself to the only person that matters - yourself:

What have I done to make other people's lives better?

Level 20

Comparing yourself to others is a race you can never win... we tend to compare our weaknesses with others strengths; our insides with others outsides.

#deletefacebook

I realized that the women writing submissions have insight and ideas more fascinating to me than the Thwack men.  I am, and will remain, grateful for your submission. 

Back in the 1960's through the 1990's I compared my life and possessions to others--and despaired.  Once I left the rat race and stopped comparing I automatically stopped despairing.

There'll always be someone with a "thing" more impressive.  You'll never have the biggest house or boat, the fanciest car, the most impressive spouse, the better clothes, the more perfect skin, and so on ad nauseum. 

Best to count one's blessings and stop comparing; start being happier by ignoring what you don't have, what you don't own, what you are not.  And start enjoying what and who you are.

Level 14

When I compare myself to others I realise how lucky I am.    

About the Author
I am not a native of the Geek Kingdom, but I have been granted permanent legal resident status.  I find your culture intriguing and seek to study it closely so that I might help the rest of the world better understand your needs, motivations, and strange rituals. Somewhere in 1997, I discovered that I possess a pretty decent ability to take complex, technical "mumbo-jumbo" and explain it to anybody's grandmother.  Thus, a career was born.  And now, I run SolarWinds' corporate marketing and PR programs.  (So, if you are ever struck with a sudden and pressing need to declare your undying love of SolarWinds to a Network World reporter, feel free to call me.  I can make that dream happen.) I married a geek and am pretty sure that our two boys are already displaying the tell-tale signs of geek.  And while I have been known to kid about those with a professed love of technology...  it has changed my life for the better.  And no, Spock is not a superhero.