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A Balanced Approach to Comparing Our Life with Others

Shahrukh Raza
5 min readSep 1, 2022

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I think it is fair to say that the majority of human beings will have experienced the pangs of comparing themselves to other people at one point or another. We stack our lives up with others in our head (consciously or unconsciously) and we may even beat ourselves up over it. These thoughts come into our head uninvited and linger; sometimes for a little bit and sometimes for a while. Some may give the well-intentioned advice “don’t compare yourself with others” but being the social creatures that we are I don’t think it is nearly sufficient for the problem at hand. They will come into our head whether we like it or not and so it is entirely impossible to follow in an all-encompassing manner. What we can do is adopt a framework that takes a more balanced approach.

I am a huge believer in learning from others and being inspired by them. It leverages that part of us that desires to compare and uses it in a good manner. There is so much to learn from those around us if we just care to look at it in the right way. We take all of the thought that they may have put in something and pick up where they left off; whether that be a habit, mindset, technique, method, etc. The majority of things that we do in life are learned from others and even the smaller things that we think may have come from ourselves were very likely influenced by somebody else. Since a considerable part of who we are is based on the people and environment around us, I say we can compare and take from them on a conscious level as well! I’d actually encourage comparing yourself to somebody with a specific characteristic/action/etc that you admire (accepting that you are deficient in that category) and think about how you’d like to emulate that thing in your own life.

The problematic part arises when we extend our comparison beyond that one “thing” and the fact is that we have a tendency of doing that without even realizing. When we compare with another person, we pit our identity as a whole against an idealized version of their identity. It is an unfair battle and you’re going to lose every time. One side is filled with only “good” aka their identity rooted in fantasy. The other side is filled with good, bad, and a whole lot of gray aka your identity rooted in reality. Which side is bound to seem better? Obviously the idealized version! Your messy life cannot compare to a life that is oh-so-perfect. This is the exact point where we are making an assumption without any basis. Ask yourself this: Do you know the struggles that they may have gone through? Their hardships? Their benefits? Their skills? Anything about them beyond the surface level? For most people, we can reliably say that we don’t know much about them and their story. Even when we look within ourselves, we see a multitude of dimensions which is one of the most amazing things about being a human. There are so many deeper aspects to our identity that we cannot fully comprehend ourself; much less attempt to do so for another human being! And yet, we implicitly compare our own multi-dimensional self to the one-dimensionality of another human being. It is not logical to do by any stretch of the imagination.

One thing to note here is that we also have a tendency of treating our past self harshly by employing the same technique. We ask ourselves how we could have ever made “x” decision or thought “y” thing to be true. But the reality is that the you at that time was going through a set of issues, thoughts, emotions that have long passed and can never be revisited in any true sense. To be clear, I am not making some case of freeing ourselves from any sense of accountability. We can acknowledge that something we did in our past was not good for us and at the same time accept that we did it based on the set of information available. The best thing we can do now is learn from it and move on; thinking low of our past self can bring in feelings of self-contempt, hatred which are not productive to our well-being.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the best manner of comparing with others is to isolate to one action and and consider how it can be added in the context of our own life. With that, we are not making assumptions about their life as a whole, rather we’re just taking a slice out and trying to add it into our own. We’ve covered how to compare the smaller aspects of our life and I’ll end with an analogy of how to compare our lives as a whole with respect to others.

An Analogy

When I was younger, I would look out the window when we stopped at a red light and imagine that it was a race between all the cars. It would be fun to see a car overtake another and eventually one would be deemed the winner. But just a couple seconds later, I would see another car take a right in the front and suddenly this new vehicle is in front of the “winner.” But then, who is the winner of the race? The new car is in front of the original winner but they didn’t have the same starting point; what the heck is going on?

I personally wouldn’t fault little-me for thinking of it as a race haha. There is an (apparent) starting point, an (eventual) ending point and each car is responsible of how fast they go. At a high level overview, it checks out as a “race” but with a tiny bit closer inspection it collapses on itself. When you’re on the road, the reality is that everybody has different routes, starting points, destinations, speed, acceleration and so on. As adults, this is intuitive because the intricacies are in plain sight. This is analogous to the “race” of life as well; it may seem appealing to consider it as such but there are way too many things variable (intellect, environment, genetics, etc) to do it in any way that would be fair for everyone. We are all on our different paths and we are all working with a different set of capabilities. In the minute details, we obviously have our similarities (which we can choose to adopt) but it would be foolish to compare our identity as a whole to another.

If somebody always chooses to look in front of themselves they will find somebody, without fail. There will always be somebody better than you and this is a straight roadmap toward living a life of suffering characterized by chasing the ghost of perfection. An individual like that will continually strive but be perpetually miserable. On the other hand, we should also care to look around time to time to see how we are doing and ensure that we don’t get into any crashes — figuratively or literally. As always, an attempt at living a life of balance is the way to go. We aspire to align ourself to the middle path and when we do steer away from it (spoiler alert: we will), we hope to find the strength to get back on course.

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Shahrukh Raza

Software Engineer. Interested in the Islamic sciences, psychology, coding, and recently physics!