Maybe you know the feeling–you’re exploring TikTok and land on a video of your college roommate posed across a breathtaking veranda, captivating you with her glossy, wind-blown hair. Then comes the tinge of inadequacy you feel in comparison. Or, you’re tapping through Instagram and spot your CEO cousin–zipping up his suitcase for yet another five-star business trip. Suddenly your new promotion seems lame and miniscule.
There’s also your best friend from high school, still looking impossibly radiant next to her handsome husband and flawless children. Yet another sumptuous example of how everyone’s life seems way cooler than yours. You gaze down at your faded yoga pants, second-guessing your address, your IQ and your student loan debt–thumbing through your mental catalogue of personal failures, wondering why else seems to have it together.
But, what if the temptation to compare yourself to another person has little to do with their 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 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 courage to stop watching and start doing…
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 beauty, the infinite wardrobe, the string of smitten suitors. She was hardly ever without a trail of glassy-eyed wannabes behind her and an army of paparazzi stampeding each other to get to her. What a charmed life she lived, right?
But, as revealed in her 2020 documentary, This Is Paris, the world didn’t see the internal war that raged between the character she’d built and the dark truth of her mental health. How she never felt a true sense of belonging within her conservative family, accusing her parents of having “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 harrowing nightmares. Not to mention her fear of intimacy that spawned a string of publicly-failed relationships and her struggle to separate fantasy from reality. Even when the cameras weren’t rolling, she admittedly forgot when to break character and “be normal.”
Things in Paris Hilton’s world were never as charming as they seemed to be.
But it’s not just the mirage of celebrity that causes us to inaccurately idolize or envy another person. Because, when we use another person’s life as a metric of our own fabulousness or success, we’re being deceived by a myriad of assumptions . 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 missing a world of data–even if you grew up in the same community or fall into the same economic bracket. While your worldview might contain components of reality, it almost certainly has just as many misunderstandings. 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. They’ve got an opposite challenge from you.
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 real story is the one living it.
You know what else? You’d likely be surprised to discover the ways others have 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. Crazy, right? Because the reality is this: most of what they’re 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 intimately 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.”
You’ll 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 temptation to compare?
If you struggle with comparing your deepest inadequacies to another person’s shining moment, 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.
But, ultimately, it boils down to the commitment to tend to your own fruitful, gorgeous garden. Because, if you’re constantly keeping an eye on what your neighbor is growing, you’re robbing yourself of momentum, productivity and, ultimately, joy. Also the complete picture of reality–because, again, chances are high that your neighbor’s garden, no matter how seemingly abundant and verdant and well-manicured, has seen its share of unwanted pests.
You might keep in mind that the act of comparing does have some potential perks…
It’s not all bad, though. Comparison in micro-doses might serve to rekindle your inspirations and point you toward new avenues of possibility and success strategies–ones you might not have seen on your own. It can inspire your life, infusing you with the “If they can do it, why can’t I” mentality. But only if you let it.
The trick is to never drift so far into those observations of others that you abandon your self-belief and zone of genius. Because then you’ll lose sight of what is real.
…so long as you swiftly get back to sparking magic within your own delicious 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.