Self-Esteem Killer: The Comparison Trap

All people on earth were created with worth and value. This is what I believe. Everyone has a purpose and everyone has something to contribute. Unfortunately, society often celebrates a different rubric for worth: a set of physical attributes, intellectual capabilities and noteworthy accomplishments which are required for “successful” living. As a result, most of us spend our lives comparing ourselves to others, trying to discern if we are “up to snuff.”


Comparing ourselves to others is a slippery slope. More often than not it feeds self-doubt, inhibits productivity, and saps joy from our lives. Here are the two the mistakes we often make:


Mistake #1: Comparing our Weaknesses to Others’ Strengths


Let’s face it, no one is perfect. We all have things we do well, and other areas where we struggle. Although many agree that this is reality, we nevertheless are intolerant of our own perceived weaknesses. Typically, we believe we should be good at everything, and hyper-focus on areas where we feel we fall short. To make matters worse, we tend to idolize those who have these talents or characteristics and deem ourselves failures.


For example…


a young woman who struggles with weight compulsively compares herself to people who are naturally slender


a person for whom reading is difficult compares himself to friends who read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover every day


one who fears public speaking envies friends who are comfortable before large groups


an un-athletic teen feels inferior to her peer who is going to college on a lacrosse scholarship


The problem with this approach is that we undervalue our own gifts and give undue attention to areas we perceive as weaknesses. Frankly, if we could read the thoughts of others, we would likely find that they are comparing themselves to us in some area and feeling inadequate. A better approach is to focus on identifying and developing our own strengths, and then finding a way “row downstream” by putting them to use in our careers and personal lives.


Mistake #2: Comparing Our Private to Others’ Public


Whenever we step into a public setting, we try and put our best foot forward. We wear nice clothes, speak intentionally, stand up tall, etc. As most family members would attest, who we are in public often does not completely reflect who we are in private. In places where we feel comfortable (e.g. at home), we are probably far less impressive.


The problem is that many of us compare our inner selves – who we are when no one is looking – to the polished and perfected personas we see in public.


“She never loses her temper,” we notice, of a mother at the park.


“He’s got it all together. He knows everyone’s name and always says the right thing.”


“She has perfect skin/hair/legs…” we think as we look at an image in a magazine.


“They have a wonderful, happy family who takes amazing vacations” we conclude after seeing a post on Facebook.


But pull back the curtain on any of our most admired contacts and we would see that they all have flaws and struggles. Maybe the Mom actually falls apart at home and cries in despair. Or maybe the friendly businessman retreats into a shell at home playing video games. We’ve all seen the magic of Photoshop to alter and perfect images that end up in print. And who knows the story behind online posts? I’ve yet to see a family post about the fight Mom and Dad had in the hotel room!


The truth is, we never know what goes on behind closed doors, so we shouldn’t compare our intimate, personal selves to the practiced and perhaps artificial facades we encounter in a public setting.


* * * * *


There will always be people whose accomplishments, skills, appearance, work ethic, etc. we respect and admire. Coaching, professional assistance and mentoring relationships can all be very helpful as we seek to grow and improve our lives. But be careful. Falling into the above comparison traps can lead to an inaccurately poor sense of self, killing your motivation and draining your productivity. Remember, no one is perfect … and no one needs to be.


Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others?

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