Comparison and Competition

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I hate to say it, but insecurity reared its ugly head again the other day. I’ve gotten better at detecting it and stopping it at the source (comparison), but unfortunately, I’m not perfect and not immune to it weaseling its way in to my mind from time to time. Growing up, it was one of my biggest downfalls. I always wanted to be the best at something or better than everyone else (a note on that later). I would purposely avoid doing things I was interested in, like soccer or dance, because I knew I wouldn’t be as good as the other kids who had been doing it longer than me. I still catch myself deciding I’m not cut out for something or won’t be competent at it before even giving it a go. It’s my way of trying to protect myself from embarrassment or feeling less than. The factor I always ignore is that the other people probably weren’t experts immediately. They had to put in work and time to get to where they are now.

For me, comparison has always led to competition. Unhealthy, soul-sucking, spirit-crushing, entirely-for-the-wrong-reasons, tear-the-other-person-down competition. I believed if I could make myself seem superior, unflawed, and great at everything, I would win. Yet, I was my own worst enemy. Isn’t that typically how it goes? I took my own insecurities and tried to attack the person that made me feel inferior by going after something in the same category. However, it never made me feel better in the long run. I was, more or less, trying to keep my head barely above water by drowning someone else. I feel like this scenario is all too common, especially with the prevalence of social media. Being able to compare yourself to anyone in the world is readily available at your finger tips. Are you so full of yourself that it actually makes you feel better? Are you tearing them down in an effort to combat your own internal issues? Are you thinking you don’t measure up? What’s interesting is where we try to cut people down is typically where society expects us to excel. Brené Brown speaks of the gender-related societal expectations in Daring Greatly, which is a book I highly recommend!

Men: don’t be weak

Women: be nice, pursue a thin body ideal, show modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents or abilities, be domestic, care for children, invest in a romantic relationship, keep sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship, and use our resources to invest in our appearance

Now think of where you’ve criticized others or even yourself. Does it fall under any of those categories? Mine definitely do. What we have to work on is observing without comparing. There’s a difference between saying another girl is pretty and saying that she’s prettier than you or that you’re prettier than her. If comparison is leading to unhealthy competition, drop the ‘than’. Focus on being confident in yourself and your abilities without tearing anyone else down in the process, including yourself. Work towards being able to look at qualities someone else possesses with admiration instead of jealousy. Learn to distinguish between something you want to be and obtain for yourself versus to compete with someone else. Use what matters to you as motivation to be your personal best rather than to “win” at a game that never ends.

***A Note on “Better”. All too often we’re stuck in a cycle of better. We want a better job, better for (y)our children, we believe we’re the better worker, we refer to the new person in our exes’ lives as, most likely, someone we’re better than. What we have a hard time understanding is that in any of those situations, nothing is necessarily better, just different. Wanting to avoid working the jobs at the bottom of the totem pole, like McDonald’s which is typically the go-to, for you or your child is understandable, but there are valuable lessons to be learned in any service industry. What people fail to realize is that it’s working at those jobs where you learn to interact with all sorts of different personalities, in regards to customers, and you can decide which one you want to be when you’re on the other side. Those jobs give you an opportunity to be empathetic, wait patiently in line, put something back where you got it, or be careful not to create a mess when you walk into a store right before closing time. You know what it’s like to be waiting for the last customer to leave so you can clean up or go home. You also realize that all of your coworkers, yourself included, and everyone else in the workforce are all just trying to make a living. Don’t make yourself out to be above a certain job title and those that have it due to your education or qualifications. (That was a hard one for me to come to terms with.) Let’s not subscribe to a societal hierarchy where we value a person’s worth based on their job description. When it comes to fellow coworkers, I’ve observed that the “worst” employee, the one negatively being talked about by managers and other workers, still pays attention to something the “best” one doesn’t. We’re too busy thinking of ourselves so highly to realize we can still improve and learn a thing or two of what to do from the “worst” ones. We all bring something different to the table. The same goes for relationships that end and the inevitable new relationships that will come about. It’s not an issue of someone actually being better as a person than another, it’s about people being better suited for each other. Always trust that if they can find someone better suited for them, you can find someone better suited for you.

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