It can happen in an instant when you are around other people or on social media: the comparison monster shows up. Monsters typically aren’t very nice and the comparison monster is no different. The comparison monster lives in most of us and rarely offers very positive information. The monster loves to remind you that you aren’t as smart, creative, talented, beautiful, serene, mature, youthful, wealthy, flexible, thin, tall, strong, or whatever as someone else. Lately I have noticed that the comparison monster also comments on how others choose to live their lives; what big choices they make compared to your choices. “She lives in the city. Maybe I’m supposed to live in the city too.” “He travels to exotic places. Oh, I never do that. I should be more adventurous in life.” “Wow, I forgot to have kids!” Not very helpful at first glance.
Then a good friend visited and during our conversation about retiring and what to do when you aren’t working full time, I had a big realization. It occurred to me that one of the biggest reasons why comparing yourself to others is useless is that what one person likes to do is often very different from what another person likes to do. Why be envious of their life if you aren’t even sure you want it? Well that sounds rather obvious, but the negativity of the comparison monster rarely lets you off the hook so easy. The comparison monster is adept at making you feel bad when you see someone else doing something awesome. But just because someone else is doing something amazing doesn’t mean that you should do it too. Instead you can use the comparison monster to motivate you to figure out what you really want to do. Perhaps the comparison monster does have some value.
When you find that you are negatively comparing yourself to someone else, ask yourself if what they are doing really holds any meaning to you. If yes, then consider how you might seek a similar path. And if no, then find a path that gives you meaning, regardless of the other person’s choice. When you hear the comparison monster saying, “You aren’t as talented as she is,” thank Mr. or Ms. Comparison Monster and then ask yourself, “How can I discover and nurture my own talents?” It is usually the case that when you have a strong reaction to something or someone, there is some piece of truth you can glean from your reaction. The trick is to look for what is important to you and not try to live up to some external reference point.
The understanding that we all don’t like the same thing was further reinforced this past weekend when I got together with a group of friends to celebrate the Autumn Equinox (a week early due to schedules). While discussing how the seasons affect us it became very clear that some people like the dark, some people like the light, some people prefer the hot summer, others prefer the cool but not cold fall. Viva la difference. To each their own. Mind your own business. Everyone has two eyes, but no one has the same view. These expressions all speak to the same notion. Just because someone else is doing something and is happy doing it doesn’t mean that you are right, wrong, good, bad, better or worse for not doing that same thing. You are just uniquely you and best served by finding your own way in life. Don’t let the comparison monster run your life. Acknowledge what it has to say then decide for yourself if it has anything truthful to offer you as you create a life of your own choosing.