YOU REALLY CAN'T COMPARE
We all play comparison games
There are those things everybody does despite knowing that they really shouldn’t.
We all click on the occasional clickbait headline, even though it provides the feedback that clickbait works… but hey, we’ll get to know 9 Child Stars Who Should Run for President in 2040.
We all reach in the bag and finish 4/5ths of our fries by the time we get home, even though this leaves us with a ridiculous burger-to-fry ratio for the remainder of the meal.
Similarly, we all compare ourselves to other people every now and then, just to see how we’re doing. I’d be surprised if there’s someone who really, truly never does this. Our daily habits make it extremely easy.
After all, we spend a significant amount of time most days seeing everybody’s highlight reel. And when every week that means more engagements, more weddings, more pregnancy announcements, it’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in your own life, getting older without making an offer on a house, or sending out excited announcements about your new start up.
I mean, I overwhelmingly love my life, and I still find it really easy to try to use other people’s accomplishments as some kind of measuring stick. There are all those guys from college who are now running for office. What?? There are former coworkers who had already founded what by my age?
Even smaller aesthetic comparisons seem inevitable when you’re out of vacation days and you’re staring at someone’s third surf trip to Bali in a year.
It gets really easy to feel like there’s something we’re doing wrong
In general, I think it’s good that today we have so many opportunities to share our highlights and celebrate accomplishments with each other, even the small and trivial ones. The ease at which we can start making unhealthy comparisons is simply a side effect that we need to learn how to manage.
If we don’t figure out how to take control over it, it can leave us feeling constantly inadequate, unappreciative of our own lives, and experiencing something that looks like a midlife crisis every few weeks.
When somebody celebrates paying off student loans while we’re still five digits deep, we’ll wonder if we made a bad decision sometime back at eighteen years old.
When somebody shares a few snaps from the Amalfi Coast, we’ll wonder how we ended up so stuck.
Suddenly pictures of latte art, paint-and-cabaret night, or Joshua Tree start to make us wonder why everybody else seems to have life figured out.
But we all have different starting points and challenges
Not everybody starts from the same place. Some people merge into adulthood on a well-paved path, with parents willing to pay tuition, a freely-given car, and connections to help get a solid job right off the bat. Others need to do some more off-roading, to work night shifts to pay for that day’s classes, to hustle just to make a living wage.
It’s not fair, but that’s our reality. The bigger obstacles make for the better stories, but they definitely call for a lot more patience while they’re being written.
Not everybody is the same when it comes to the goals and checkpoints they set for themselves, either. I decided to put off my pursuit of a “serious job” and grad school for a couple years because making travel and international experience was the right thing right for me.
Some people make it a priority to pay off loans right away and to get out of debt as quickly as possible. That’s a great decision, and it’s some people take on more aggressively than others. Then there are some who try to get an early start on long term savings and investments, which is also smart.
Then there are people who rack up debt and take their sweet time paying it off, if that. It’s not an approach I can relate to, but it happens quite a bit.
We never know what invisible parts of a person’s story we don’t see
All that to say, when you’re looking at other people’s lifestyles, or even their income, to see how you’re doing by comparison, there’s a lot you don’t see. You don’t know when somebody faces challenges that are invisible on a person’s highlight reel. Something like depression can hide in plain sight really well. Same with a number of illnesses or other personal obstacles.
Without this whole picture, almost any comparison you make ends up being a false one, or at best, one that’s incomplete.
This means that when you feel like so many others are able to afford much more than you, this might just be because they aren’t giving as much thought to longer term concerns as you.
This means that when someone seems like they don’t have much, there are some times where people live well below their means to support a family member or to give away a portion of their income.
When you see people able to take endless vacations, you don’t always know what the hard parts of their life are.
It’s hard, but we really are better off without comparing
Of course, we probably already know that, but comparing ourselves to others is still a really easy thing to do. It’s easier to think of things to try to do instead, rather than to try and replace a habit with nothing.
Here are a few alternative choices:
Try to feel genuinely happy for the accomplishments of others. Redeem the art of sharing our lives with each other. Celebrate other people.
Be appreciative of your own accomplishments and adventures. Even if they don’t look like other people’s, there are definitely some. Possibly the worst part about comparison is the fact that it robs us of this gift- the chance to feel gratitude towards what we do have.
Get to know people beyond their highlight reel. When your awareness goes beyond the flashy lifestyle pics and you get to know the real person, you’ll have a better, more balanced understanding of hardships as well as happiness.
When people refer to comparison as a trap, that’s a pretty accurate term. It’s very easy to end up measuring ourselves against others, but it helps to remember that we really can’t compare.