Throughout my childhood and teenage years I was an obsessed…no, no, an avid football fan. I would watch it, read about it and play it. As an 8-year-old, I used to wake up at 5 am and watch the same football videos again and again. Ok, I was obsessive. Everything I did was through the lens of football. This lead to one inevitable outcome I would constantly compare my life’s trajectory to that of being a football.
“Right, I am still only 15, loads of players were discovered after that.”
“17, that’s OK, there is still a chance, right?”
At 19 I just got delusional…
“My natural talent* has to be discovered, surely.”
*Please note this is a subjective judgement based on a certain level of overconfidence and delusion.
At 20 years old I realised maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t going to make it as a professional footballer. This was a surprisingly depressing realisation. To me being a footballer was the ultimate success. All those players I looked up to got to play football every day whilst travelling the world. What could possibly be better? I was now too old and would never achieve anything close to what they had. My life was done.
Throughout my whole childhood, I had compared everything I had done to those that I looked up to, footballers. Then when I fell short, I felt demoralised.
The idea that we compare ourselves to others is not new. I know I do it every day to some degree. We are surrounded by media images that declare this is what success looks like. If you are not doing a certain thing or making a certain amount, then you are no good. No wonder we are constantly judging our lives against the perception we have of others.
Looking through the social media lens
One thing that often only enhances this constant comparing is social media. You find yourself trawling through Facebook or Instagram, and what do you see? You see the highlights reel of everyone you know’s life. All the best bits squeezed into one space. How many people are going to take a photo which portrays the deep sense of anxiety they are feeling towards the way their body looks? Not many.
This constant life editing only amplifies the idea that other people’s lives are so much better than your own. The reality is their online profiles are no real reflection of how they are truly living day to day. It doesn’t give you any sense of the real emotional and human experiences they are dealing with, just as you are, on a day to day basis. The veneer they create gives a gloss to a life which is not so different from yours. However, the social media lens magnifies everything in their life that seems to be going perfect, heightening your sense that your life just simply doesn’t compare.
Looking in the wrong direction
One of the reasons people compare themselves to others is because of a preconceived notion of what it means to be happy. I know I do. We have beliefs that money, status or fame will give us what we need in order to make us happy. When I looked up to footballers I was subconsciously thinking if I can just play football for a living I would feel so much better about everything.
The reality is no matter how much we may believe someone has a perfect life, they don’t. They have to deal with the same emotional issues as we do. A family member dying, a relationship breaks up, long-term health problems.
When we look objectively at other people’s lives, we quickly realise that below the surface they are not much different. They still have to navigate the human experience just as we do.
Judging by the wrong standards
We all have unique experiences, skills and gifts. When we look at others, that we think we should be like, we may find they are better at particular things. However, that goes two ways. You will also have talents that they could only dream of.
By comparing ourselves to others we are simply judging ourselves through the wrong lens. Like a dog comparing himself to a cat. They are simply not the same. You are not better or worse, simply different and that’s OK.
Through constant comparisons, we only increase our stress, negative self-talk and anxiety. The key to stopping it from happening is by accepting who you are.
You are right in thinking you are not like person a or person b, you are different. However, those differences are what make you great. No less important or successful as the other person. You have a unique set of gifts and experiences that will allow you to share your personal talents with the world. That is the only real meaning of success.
Take time to compare yourself to yourself
It can be difficult to stop yourself from constantly comparing yourself to others. It seems to come so easily. However, there are things you can do in order to help wean yourself off this diet of constant comparison. One effective method is to consciously take the time to look at yourself. Create space in which you can look at your achievements and express gratefulness for what you already have.
“Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.”
Another great way to think about it is comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday. One great way people do this is by simply writing down a few things every day about what you have achieved and what you are thankful for. Just a simple 5-minute exercise. Then overtime this record will build up and you can look back on it and see how much you have moved forward. You will be able to pick out those things in your life that truly are worth remembering.