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."
[Image: Flickr user Bastian Greshake]