Don’t Compare Yourself to Your Peers — Even Though You Can’t Help It

We all know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. But it’s still easier said than done.

One of the worst things you can do is compare yourself to another person. The end result is always negative. But let’s focus specifically on work/school performance.

One of the most interesting statistics I have heard is about STEM major transfer rates at top-rated universities vs lower rated universities.

Imagine you’re in the top 2% of your graduating class in high school. You can attend any university in the country with a full ride scholarship. Where should you go? The local pretty darn good university? Or the Ivy League School where your idol scientist graduated from?

Seems clear right? Go to the best.

Well, not so fast. You are actually significantly hurting your chances of not only doing well but even graduating. Why? Because of human nature. You may enjoy the STEM classes you take, but one of the reasons you are pursuing them as a major and career is because you believe you are really good at these subjects. Why? Because you are good at those subjects IN COMPARISON to your peers. You’re top 2%. If you do so much better than everyone else, you MUST be good at those subjects. What else can this belief be based on? That’s really your only valid comparison. You are only smart because you’re smarter than those around you.

So what happens when you join that Ivy League school? All of a sudden, your peers are the other top 2% of the high schools across the country. Now, you’re no longer excelling in relation to your peers. You’re just doing average. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re below average.

What happens? You start to think, “maybe I wasn’t so smart after all. All these people are getting better grades than me, and they’re getting this stuff faster than I am.”

And suddenly, in comparison, you don’t think you’re so good anymore. So you change majors. Maybe comparative lit is the right path for you instead of machine learning.

Now what would have happened if you had instead gone to your local “average” university? An entirely different scenario.

You’d be in an only slightly different scenario from high school. Instead of top 2%, you’d be top 10 or 15. There’d be other people from the top 2, but there’d also be plenty who weren’t as academically inclined in that subject as you. You’d still feel like you really understood everything well, and you’d feel competent. End result? You stick with it and graduate.

So is there any actual difference with you? your capability? nope. The difference is all in how you compare yourself to others. Think about it. Think about something you’re good at. Chances are you feel like you’re good at that thing only because you’re better than most other people you know. If you were put in a large group of people who were all world class at that thing, you’d probably feel different about it.

So what to do?

Don’t compare yourself to others. Sounds easy, but it’s not. We’re wired as humans to care and compare. But it IS a skill that can be learned. You can practice, and learn to accept when you’re not the best in the room, yet still enjoy what you’re doing. You can still appreciate whatever competence you have with something, regardless of how it compares to others. It just takes practice. So be mindful, practice, and you WILL get better at it.