Do you ever dream of what it’d be like to step into another person’s life? Maybe you know the feeling: you’re exploring TikTok and land on a video of your college roommate posing across a breathtaking veranda, captivating you with her glossy, wind-blown hair. Next comes the tinge of inadequacy you feel in comparison. You’re tapping through Instagram and spot your CEO cousin, once again zipping up his suitcase for a five-star business trip. Suddenly, your pending promotion seems lame and miniscule. And then there’s your best friend from high school, still looking impossibly radiant next to her handsome husband and flawlessly groomed children. Once again, a shimmering example of how everyone’s life seems much cooler than yours.
You gaze down at your faded yoga pants, second-guessing your address, your IQ, your student loan debt and your jawline that will never quite look like Bella Hadid’s. You think of your failures, wondering why everyone you know seems to have it together in ways you don’t. Will you ever measure up?
But the next time you start to tumble down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, might you consider something: what if the temptation to compare yourself to another person has little to do with their perceived fabulousness and, instead, everything to do with your unfulfilled dreams and unresolved insecurities? Might the urge to compare be both a useful guide and a self-defeating prophecy–one that inspires your life when followed by positive, self-affirming action, yet entraps you when you stay too long?
If you’ve ever gotten tangled up in a maze of comparing yourself to another person, read on. Because building your confidence might be less about “measuring up” and more about the willingness to stop watching and start doing.
To begin, know this: when you compare yourself to others, you’re operating from a world of assumptions…
In the mid-2000s, Paris Hilton was the envy of the era. The original influencer of an exploding digital age, she turned her privileged party-girl image into a multimillion dollar global empire. Her popularity swept across genders and generations, captivating the masses with her kittenish blonde looks and flirtatious baby-like voice. To the world, it appeared she had it all: the fame and popularity, the confidence, the head-turning blondness, the infinite wardrobe, the support of friends and family, the string of smitten suitors. She was hardly ever without a trail of glassy-eyed wannabes behind her and an army of paparazzi elbowing each other to get to her. What a charmed life she lived, right?
But, as revealed in her 2020 documentary, This Is Paris, what the world did not see was the internal war that raged between the character she’d created and the truth of her mental and emotional health. How she never felt a true sense of belonging within her conservative family, claiming that her parents “swept everything under the rug.” How she was tormented by the abuse she’d endured as a teenager, causing her time of being “on top of the world” to be spent in a blur of medicated insomnia and terrifying nightmares. And, as a result, a fear of intimacy that spawned a string of publicly-failed relationships. How she struggled to separate fantasy from reality, even when the cameras weren’t rolling–forgetting when to break character and “be normal.” Things in Paris Hilton’s world were never as charmed as they appeared to be.
And it’s not just the mirage of celebrity that feeds our delusions of reality and causes us to inaccurately idolize or envy another person when comparing ourselves and them. Because, when we use another person’s life as a metric to our own success, whether that of a public figure or a friend, we are being deceived by a myriad of assumptions about them. Whether their net worth or their Instagram grid, when you compare the totality of information you have about yourself with the fragments of information you have about another person, you’re almost certainly missing a world of data–even if you grew up in the same community or economic bracket. While your view might have components of reality, it almost certainly has just as many components of misunderstanding. Because, for every person you compare yourself to, in the majority of cases, they’ve got a hidden entourage of challenges, insecurities and traumas you’d likely never want to take on.
In his epic bestseller, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, Malcolm Gladwell explores the assumptions we often make about one another–how we simplify our perceptions of others whose stories are always nuanced and complex, forming judgments around them that reinforce what we want to believe. He writes, “Transparency is the idea that people’s behavior and demeanor—the way they represent themselves on the outside—provides an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside.”
…because the only person who knows the full story is the one living it.
And, interestingly, you might be surprised if you were to learn of the people who’ve compared themselves to you, assuming you were handed a golden ticket in areas of life they feel weak or short-changed. Perhaps they’ve romanticized your accomplishments, relationships or privileges, filling in the gaps with their idealized fantasies or judgments. When most of what they are comparing themselves to isn’t real about you or, at best, is only partially real. The same way that the person you compare yourself to has a story you don’t entirely know and never will.
Brene Brown, research professor, vulnerability expert and bestselling author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, said, “Stay in your lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.”
Comparing yourself to others might inspire new possibilities…
So, while comparison in micro-doses might serve to energize your inspirations and point you toward new avenues of possibility and strategies of success–ones you might not have seen on your own, when you drift so far into those observations of others, you abandon your own self-belief and zone of genius. And you lose sight of what is real.
You will never have enough information about another person to accurately compare yourself to them. No matter how dreamy or untouchable they might appear moseying through yet another fancy hotel, cuddling closely to their man-crush by a crackling fire or putting their signature on yet another business deal. Because every person you admire was once a fumbling newbie at their craft, even if you’ve only ever known them as the head a Fortune-500 company or an exploding brand with half a million YouTube subscribers. And, even after becoming CEO or swipe-up queen, every person still wrestles with problems. Because there is no immunization from being human, no matter how powerful or wealthy one becomes–whether they are battling a stubborn health struggle, a spiteful ex-employee or an overbearing parent.
So, then, what’s the remedy for taming the urge to compare your deepest inadequacies to another person’s shining moment? While resources like this workbook can help you identify and exterminate those stubborn areas of self-doubt, nurturing your confidence is a journey that requires daily, loving attention. Ultimately, it’s about the commitment to tend to your own garden. Because, if you’re constantly keeping an eye on what your neighbor is growing, you’re robbing yourself of momentum, productivity and, ultimately, the joy of living. Also the complete picture of reality–because, again, chances are high that your neighbor’s garden, no matter how seemingly abundant and well-manicured, has seen its share of unwanted pests.
…but the trick is to quickly get back to creating magic within your own life.
While it’s perfectly okay (perhaps enlivening) to indulge in comparisons every once in a while, the trick is to never linger too long in that space. Instead, let your observations of others inspire your character and motivate your goals– encouraging you to own your story and create magic within it, to reinvent yourself however often you wish and to expand upon the infinite ways you might uniquely contribute to the world.