Why You Should Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People

My good friend and fellow professor, Jason, shared a fun activity with me that I’ve used in a few different education settings. It’s called “The Value Auction.” He probably got the idea from another teacher. Somewhere there are probably one hundred teachers using the same idea but in slightly different ways. Sigh, it’s how teachers do: recycling and using whatever tools we can find.

In the activity, college students are put into groups and given a set amount of money — you can use hypothetical dollars, Monopoly money, etc. — Then students are presented with a list of Values: “Life,” “Love,” “Justice,” “Freedom,” “Health,” “Wealth,” and so on. Students have to rank what they value from 1st to 20th (or however many you put on the list.) Some struggle with this activity, because they’ve never been asked to say which is more important in any explicit manner before. As a group, they have to decide which values their team identifies with and will bid on in the class auction (coming next). What transpires is usually an awesome experience in group communication and negotiation. People are flabbergasted when the person sitting next to them has a remarkably different list. “How can you not value The Environment? Isn’t it crucial for Life?” “Look, I value The Environment, I just value my Family more.” (me chiming in to play instigator: “But don’t you need Freedom and/or Freewill to do anything meaningful with either of those things?”)

Usually a small group can come to some agreement about which ones they want to go for against the other groups. The facilitator calls the groups’ attentions and starts the bidding for the first Value. There are always bidding rules — you’re limited by what your group has in hand, $5 or whatever increments, no pooling money with other teams, etc. Bidding strategies emerge: one group is saving their money with the hope to buy their one shared Value, another more thrifty group is trying to buy as many Values as they can, other groups are fighting with one another during the bidding, “we’re not going to spend all of our money on Justice!” “No! Friendship isn’t worth more than 40 bucks!”

Lessons I’ve learned after observing hundreds of people participating in this activity:

Multiple people can have great arguments for ranking values very differently.

Our cultures, families, and identities strongly impact our values.

We fiercely defend our values, especially when we feel they are ignored or not valued by others.

Perspective matters and once we learn another’s perspective, their values often make more sense.

No two people ever have the same list.

Should I say it again for everyone in the back?

No two people ever have the same list.

Which means that the driving forces in most of our lives are different — incomparable really. If you are someone driven more by Wealth than Relationships, my life choices won’t seem logical to you. You’ve probably got a fatter 401K than me. But again, that’s only important if we place the same emphasis on this shared value. It’s the layer the auction demonstrates — value hierarchy. And the hierarchy isn’t fixed. At different points in our lives and in different situations, what we value over other values changes. Maybe Justice made the top 5 last week, but Money is what you need now. We don’t lose what we value — we just alter our prioritization of them to meet our needs.

Still, the pressures of social comparison persist; it’s hard not to covet or envy someone else’s life — as seen through their perfect, popular social media feeds. But we need more strategies clearly, as young people continue to show increased psychological trauma. Honest evaluations and reflections to develop self-worth are key for nurturing emotional intelligence. The multiplicity of images in our news feed should be entertaining and a useful way to keep up with our friends’ changing lives. Because there’s no overall contest in this life. There’s no contest because there’s no finish line. There’s no contest because there’s no clear judging criteria. And who’s the judge anyway? (Hopefully my dog. He thinks I’m totally the best.)

The only measuring up you should be doing is productive evaluation and reflection of your own values. What are the most important principles that guide your choices? How have they changed over the last decade? We are often caught in moral dilemmas where we have to chose one value over another. Which is more important — Honesty or Relationships — ‘cause sometimes that’s the choice: to lie to a friend or tell them that you saw their significant other out with someone else last night… There are no right answers when it comes to these dilemmas. But there are definitely consequences. Are you confident enough to stand and defend why you made one choice over another? You should be.

You’ve got to own your choices because they demonstrate to everyone else who you are. And if someone else is making comparisons: “Your friend Melanie is already married, why aren’t you?” “Didn’t you guys graduate high school together, they’ve really made something of themselves, huh?” Explain to them that your life might have been like theirs too, if you were in their shoes, but you became a different person because of different situations and choices. Can you appreciate your own successes as well as recognizing and validating another’s success? It’s not pie. We can all be successful in our own ways.

In directing performances, I’ve often worked with students on identifying and understanding their characters. What’s a character’s motivation? What are their values? What internal struggle are they having in their value hierarchy? What bidding war is taking place? What ultimately wins? It’s a wonderful exercise to do for yourself sometime, if you think about yourself as the star of a production (which you always should).

Make a list of your values, rank them. Then embody and practice them. Use them to guide your choices. This is the path to greater self-esteem and self-confidence. I mean, you have to get to know yourself before you can truly fall in love with yourself.

And remember, No two people ever have the same list.

Do you and do you well.

Christine Warda can be found at www.seedubinternational.com.