How I Learned To Stop Comparing Myself To Others, And Love My Own Ideas

That last bragging tweet by a talented so-and-so got you down? Jealous of a competitor's Facebook status update? It's time to step away from the social media, forget about forces you can't control, and concentrate on only one thing: being the best you realistically can be.

When I first started my digital public relations company, I was lost, confused, scared, and lonely. I think many entrepreneurs--and normal people, too--go through this. Whether it be a big project, a company, or a new relationship, pushing into the unknown can be debilitatingly scary. Especially for those of us programmed to put things in boxes, in black and white, in life's bento box, as so eloquently put in this TED talk about the power of vulnerability.

I was vulnerable, but also highly competitive. As I tried to navigate my way through the wading pool of rejection, creation, and then rejection again, my biggest downfall wasn't funding, or a business plan, or office space. It was my habit of constantly comparing myself and my own progress to others that nearly led to my demise.

I know I'm not alone in this. I spoke recently with a good friend whom I consider strikingly accomplished and brilliant. She lamented that a certain person in her field made her feel inadequate. I told her if she felt inadequate, the rest of us were screwed.

At the height of being lost and "in it" when starting my business, I couldn't look at listserves of other wonderful women and entrepreneurs, or read stories about other successes, because I felt like a constant failure.

It wasn't until I kept to my own swim lane, which took a lot of work, time, and confidence building, that I was able to succeed. It's an ongoing crawl.

Remember: You are comparing yourself to perception.

I had a really powerful talk with another entrepreneur at SXSW this year. I was lamenting how I felt that, as a late riser, I was missing out on precious hours of work. He said something that I still think about--that when we compare ourselves to others, whether it be a marriage, a career, or a specific achievement, that we are only comparing ourselves to our perception of this person. We are not said person, nor will we ever know their true selves. It's okay to admire certain characteristics--work ethic, style, humor, but they're just pieces of a greater whole. To boot, you never know if this is real. Sometimes people mistake introverts for extroverts.

Try to ignore the bragging

This was hard for me to do. Sometimes I still get resentful or jealous of others' successes. But another wise friend once said that there was enough success for everyone around us. Celebrating someone else's achievements when you desperately want your own can be very difficult. But you don't genuinely want that exact achievement--figure out what you want your own achievement to be, irrelevant of others.

Beyond the numbers

These feelings of inadequacy stemming from comparison to others is exacerbated by link bait, by Twitter, by Facebook. It can feel like everyone has things to brag about but you. However, numbers are only numbers--quantifiable things like Twitter followers or click-throughs are just that. Numbers.

Maybe you achieved something less tangible, and that is just as valid of an achievement, whether you broadcast it or not. Some of my favorite projects I've ever done or pieces I've written have gotten the least shares. It's interesting the way that plays out, and how we measure success. Make your own definition of success, and leave that to only you.

There is only one you

This might sound cheesy, but there is one you. You're utterly unique, and so are your experiences, your worldview. That makes you valuable, and pretty awesome. Be the best version of yourself you can be, because no matter how hard you try, you can't be anyone else. There is always going to be someone taller, smarter, thinner, or richer than you. Trying to get to the top of that is a losing game, and physically impossible.

Healthy levels of comparison

They say in business you're only as good as your competition. Sometimes competition can be a good thing--it drives you to push the boundaries in your own business or at a company. However, it's important to not let "beating" the opponent get in the way of creating something you believe in.

Comparing yourself to others can be debilitating. It was for me, and I don't doubt that it is for others. The constant stream of brags on social media, in magazines, online, in our own navel-gazing and self-promoting society (pot calling the kettle black alert: I'm a publicist and writer) can feel really, really bad.

If you let it.

In order to succeed, you have to be the best you. Oscar Wilde was right: "Everyone else is already taken."

--Meredith Fineman is the CEO of FinePoint digital PR. You can read more of her writing here or follow her on Twitter at @meredithfineman

[Image: Flickr user Bastian Greshake]

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17 Comments

  • Dolores DeGiacomo

    One of the downfalls of being competitive is the idea that success is a zero sum game.  It's not, obviously.  But bearing that in mind and keeping emotions in check long enough to consider your next move can be challenge. More than one person can succeed and of course, success is personal and subjective anyway.  

    www.ddLifeCoach.com

  • Kitty Holzmer

    I printed this article to carry around with me today. It was perfect timing as I have started swimming out of my lane again. It is debilitating to look at others and feel paralyzed when I know inside that my gifts are rich. One foot in front of the other.  Thank you Meredith.

  • Marguerite

    Well said.   Whether in life or in business, that kind of comparison is so unhealthy.  I life the "keep in your own swim lane".  As a swimmer myself, I can relate that if I keep checking the "opponents'', I will lose my speed.

  • Ray

    I have always had a saying, BE the leader, not the follower.  Followers are like sheep, they get slaughtered you might say by the wolves(leaders).  This article is right on piont!

  • Grogdr

    Great insight, Meredith. Once knew a guy that ran a small local pizzeria. He made the best pizza around, but that never became his focus. If his competition offered a new low price or introduced a new topping this guy would instantly match it. He never thought highly of his product and that became his downfall after about a year. 

  • Amy Williams

    Ha!  Had to laugh when I read, "There is always going to be someone taller, smarter, thinner, or richer than you."  That was my mom's go-to line from the time I was about 10 years old.  It drove me crazy at the time, especially when I just wanted sympathy, but she was so right!  Good words of wisdom to remember...

  • Tamra M. Gentry

    I absolutely LOVE this post. (Couldn't have come at a better time for me.) Thank you. ::bowing deeply::