In the words of Mark Twain, Comparison is the thief of joy. So why do so many of us get caught up in it?
“Let the refining of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to compare yourself to others”
Even though we all universally acknowledge the truth in the saying ‘ the grass is always greener from the other side’ all too often we still get caught up in the game. The one where we find ourselves falling into the ever tempting but highly dangerous trap of comparing ourselves to what others have or wishing that our own situation were more than it was or just different to what it was.
While there is no doubt that comparison can at times be a valuable source of inspiration, motivation and growth, it can also very easily be an exhausting, frustrating and painful tailspin into self-doubt and self-sabotage. The desire to achieve a personal best, acknowledge just how far we have come or simply use someone else’s learning to better our own situation are all healthy ways to use comparison.
However more so than ever before, I am meeting many professionals who are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against that of others around them – colleagues, old school mates, family members and sometimes people they don’t even know but have heard about like some mythical legend of times gone by. The problem is there is a lot of imperfect comparison going on – often against a tide of inaccurate information or with only half of the full picture revealed. AND the bottom line is they are unhappy…. desperately unhappy.
To a certain extent, ambitious, highly driven individuals are competitive by nature so have always had tendencies to compare and use the achievements of other’s as the measurement yardstick for their own. They also tend to be very specific in their categories of comparisons: salary, bonuses, job titles, perks, how many people they manage, employer prestige, speed of progression and publicity.
The real danger here is when success is defined only by external criteria rather than internal criteria because you run the risk of rapidly reducing your satisfaction and commitment. Consequently we face a huge risk of hurting ourselves and our careers and the people and businesses we lead.
Take a moment to consider the following scenarios: It may be that you or one of your team members will be more energised in a role that provides autonomy, creativity and the opportunity to take risks rather than one that offers six figures and loads of perks. Conversely you may care a lot more about working on a project that is rich in learning opportunities and provides intellectual challenge rather than securing the corner office or a people leadership role.
Failing to acknowledge our internal drivers – what we derive real satisfaction, challenge and motivation from is a career killer. Why? We run the risk of not performing at our potential and ultimately losing control of our career path through disinterest and apathy. We waste time and energy on the things that don’t matter rather than getting the job at hand done. We fail to recognise the opportunities that lie before us because we are so fearful of failure or falling behind others, we opt to ‘play it safe’ and not take the risks that would actually set us apart.
So how do we beat comparison at it’s own game? I would encourage you consider the following five tips and how you might apply them to your own career:
Never before has the demand for bold, courageous leadership been higher. Visionary leaders who are able to demonstrate an eagerness to learn when they don’t have the answers and to navigate the unknown, ambiguous and volatile nature of the markets we now operate in. To do this successfully we will need to stop the game of comparison and start focusing on being authentic by acknowledging our own internal drivers and ambitions. For when we do, we as individuals will be richer and happier for it and so to will our people and the businesses we lead.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.
Margot – The Career Diplomat
The roots of courageous leadership are firmly planted in self awareness, ownership and accountability.
Work on strengthening two different aspects of resilience.
When at a career crossroads, give yourself room to imagine what’s possible without any guilt.
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