How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Everybody Else
I was in a Zoom meeting the other day when one of the men in the group said, “I’ve got a question. Do you think it’s fair for an NFL football player to sign a contract for millions of dollars when most of us don’t make that much money in a lifetime of hard work?”
Different people weighed in. “I think nurses and school teachers should make more than football players,” someone said.
Another person thought frontline workers in grocery stores should earn as much as athletes. “They’re risking their lives during a pandemic.”
The comments continued.
“What about doctors who spend years in medical school?”
“Shouldn’t nurses and teachers make more than movie stars?”
Somebody defended a football player’s pay, pointing out that professional athletes only have a short window of time to pursue their career and there is a high risk of injury. “Not everybody is born with the size and toughness to be a football player,” he said.
Comparisons are Subjective
But there seemed to be a major fallacy in every argument. They were making comparisons, and comparisons are always subjective. People were deciding which job was more important, based on their own biases.
The person who asked the question in my Zoom group was comparing his opportunities and earnings to an NFL football player. But why not compare his opportunities and income to the opportunities of the people of Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries?
He is retired. He has a nice house, plenty to eat and a comfortable life. He vacations in Florida three times a year. His life would probably stack up pretty well compared to a lot of people. But he felt like things weren’t fair.
We are all “Rich”
Pastor and bestselling author Andy Stanley emphasizes that we are all “rich” compared to many people in the world. He holds a “Be Rich” campaign every year to raise money for various local charities, and during the campaign he urges each person to give at least $39.
Most people give more.
The charity I worked for received $70,000 of the more than one million raised one year during the Be Rich campaign, and the remainder went to a variety of other nonprofits in the area.
Stanley emphasized that the right questions are not Why did this happen? or Whose fault was that? The better question is How can we help?
Maybe when discussing pay equity for various careers, the right questions aren’t Which person should earn the most? or Is it unfair that I don’t earn as much? Maybe the better question is What can I do to maximize my potential and enjoy my life?
Imagine waking up and thinking, Oh no. Another boring day at a job I hate. What a rat race. I can’t wait to get home, but first I need to stop by the grocery store, and I dread that. I wish I could retire early, like my neighbor. He’s got it made. He spends all day doing exactly what he wants.
Those thoughts make you feel resentful, ungrateful, and overwhelmed before your first cup of coffee.
Imagine thinking instead, I’m glad I live in this house and am healthy enough to work. Today is an opportunity to have positive interactions with everybody I meet. When I get to the grocery store, I can choose anything I want for dinner.
With those thoughts, you’re already starting to feel grateful, happy, and optimistic.
The Assumptions We Make
When we compare our lives to somebody else’s, we’re making a lot of assumptions. We assume our retired neighbor who doesn’t have to work is happier. But maybe he feels restless and bored. Maybe he suffers from some chronic illness or is enduring a bad relationship. Would we still be envious?
Would the person in my Zoom group really want to trade places with the NFL football player? Would he give up his current health and freedom to risk injury and the other demands of being an athlete? He’s assuming the football player has a happier life because he earns more.
With the advent of social media, comparing ourselves to others has reached new levels. People present the glorious side of their lives on Facebook, and it makes us think of the most dismal side of our own life.
We’re comparing our worst to their best.
Max Ehrmann writes in his famous poem, Desiderata, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
The Path to Self Acceptance
But how do we stop? It’s human nature to compare, and human nature is a hard thing to overcome. We can practice gratitude, count our blessings and be more positive, but the truth is, until we learn to accept ourselves, our attitudes aren’t likely to change.
When we find our own meaning and purpose, we stop focusing on the comparisons that lead to envy, depression, and dissatisfaction. We find meaning and purpose by looking outward, beyond ourselves.
An outward focus instead of an inward focus leads to self-acceptance. If the writer focuses on helping or entertaining others with her writing instead of penning a best seller, she is more able to embrace the small victories.
If we do as Andy Stanley suggests and ask ourselves, How can I help, we are more likely to feel rich. We have something to give away.
The happiest person I know has never done anything extraordinary, but she is extraordinary in a hundred little ways. She never holds a grudge, because accepting herself means she accepts other people for who they are. She impacts people wherever she goes, in little ways that make a lasting impression. Her self-acceptance makes her relaxed and easy to be with because she is more focused on those around her than she is on trying to make an impression.
When we accept ourselves, we are able to celebrate the victories and achievements of others. We can say, I’m happy for them without wanting to be them. We accept that we have our own unique destiny, which makes every day an adventure.
We aren’t envious of the NFL football player if we embrace our own path. The universe provides opportunities uniquely suited to each of us. When we realize we are unique, we can seize those opportunities and march toward our own destiny.