Do you ever compare yourself to others?
Of course, you do. We all do. But it’s a game you will always lose, so why play?
From my experience, there are two general situations in which we compare ourselves to others. It’s more complicated than this, but they boil down to these simple scenarios:
They are better than me.
I am better than them.
If you are an athlete, especially in a sport, such as running with clearly defined winners and losers determined by distance and time, this is okay. It’s one of the only times where this works. Someone can claim to be the best brain surgeon on the planet, but there are no clear metrics by which to make that determination. Running is pure space and time.
But in the general game of life, you won’t win either of these competitions. They are self-defeating at best and destructive at worst.
They Are Better Than Me
If you want to get good at something, the best way is to learn from someone who is already good at that thing. Whether it’s playing chess, guitar, or Minecraft, watching and emulating someone who has already mastered it is the quickest route to success.
But learning from them and comparing yourself to them are two different things. The only reason you are learning from them is that they are better than you, so the comparison is a waste of time and effort.
I’ve been studying guitar for about six months. Anyone who has ever learned the guitar knows that six months is barely time enough to find your way around the fretboard. And yet, I am continually watching some master guitarists on YouTube and wishing I could play like them.
There is this one guy I watch a lot. At some point in every video, he says some variation of, “it’s so simple.” Yeah, to him it is. When he plays it, it looks and sounds so easy. But I’m usually lost by the 3rd note. So, at least once a week, I read his bio. The short version is that pretty much all he has done for the last 20 years is play guitar. How can I compare myself to him?
And yet, I do.
I pick up the guitar, watch the video, look at the sheet music, and stumble through the first bar. Why can’t I play this as good as him? Well, how about because he’s been doing it 40 times as long. Or the fact that it is all he has done with his life since high school, and he’s now a full-time professional musician.
There are many things at which I want to be better. And with today’s tech, finding someone better at anything and learning from them is easy. But comparing yourself to them is self-defeating. You can turn it from a learning lesson to an impossible task in your head. If you keep that up, eventually, you give up and go away.
I Am Better Than They Are
As bad as the first one is, this one is much, much worse. This creates a situation where you lower yourself to the worst common denominator instead of rising to the occasion.
Well, I may suck, but I don’t suck as much as that guy, so it’s okay.
Hell no, it’s not okay.
Remember where this whole ‘raising the bar’ metaphor originated. Competitive high-jumpers. When they approach the high-jump pit, they don’t look at where the person before them set the bar, then lower it. They raise the bar so that their jump will hopefully be the best of the day. They certainly don’t compare themselves to someone who is not at talented and think, “I could probably set a new record today, but I think I’ll lower the bar to what that guy did.”
They don’t take the easy way out. They raise the bar. They compare themselves to others but only to determine how high they have to jump to be better. Not lower it, so they settle for less than their best. Their main competition is themself, the last height they cleared. Not someone who isn’t as good, so they can slack off and still keep up.
I fell into that trap one day with the guitar. I found a bunch of videos by beginning guitarists and discovered that I was better than many of them. But what did that buy me? If I kept down that road, it would only allow me not to get better and still feel good about myself. Wow, at least I can play better than that guy.
I need to be better than I was yesterday, but not as good as I’ll be tomorrow. To do that, there is only one person on the planet I need to compare myself to. Me. The me that was yesterday and last week. I’ve begun to video myself once a week so that I can see progress. In any endeavor, it’s hard to see improvement in yourself. Hopefully, each day you get a tiny bit better, but the increment could be so small as to be invisible. Measuring and comparing yourself over longer periods is the only way to see the improvement.
But whatever it is you are trying to improve at, you need to devise some metric by which to compare yourself with yourself. Not the people who are better than you, and certainly not the ones not as good. But you.
Comparing yourself to others can only lead to defeat or settling for less than you can be.
In the ’80s, the US Army came out with one of their best recruiting slogans, “Be All You Can Be.” And that is what I am urging you to strive for. Be all YOU can be. And you can only do that by comparing yourself to the only person that matters. You.