Coping Skills - #5A - Don't Compare Yourself with Others
It's a common practice in our society to measure our worth by comparing our accomplishments with the achievements of others. There's no end to the fields of endeavor we might pursue, and within any and all of these fields, we can find someone to emulate, someone we can use as a standard of excellence. For decades professional sports heroes and breakfast cereal manufacturers have teamed up [no pun intended] to offer readymade package deals to young boys and girls. "Eat this cereal if you want someday to become a gold medal winner in the Olympics." Even computer hackers today have their icons and myths.
"So what's wrong with this?" you ask. "We all need role models, especially when we're young, long on ambition and short on experience."
We may not be conscious of it, but many of us carry this mind set into our adult lives, into our homes, families, and workplaces. Our role models are typically individuals of some standing in fields of endeavor in which we are, or would like to become, involved, e.g. the charismatic, inspirational evangelist at last year's annual church retreat, the most successful salesperson in the company for which we work, our "got it all together" peer advocate, or a certain relative, friend or colleague we like and admire. We pay close attention to everything they do and say, and imagine ourselves in their place. In striving to perform as they do, we quite naturally measure our accomplishments with the yardstick of their achievements.
In my experience, the practice of comparing ourselves with others can be destructive. Accepting a role model carries with it the presumption that we would like to be like him or her. Comparing ourselves with our peers implies that we would like to do better than they. Rather than guiding us, or motivating us to succeed, these comparisons, more often than not, find us wanting and leave us disheartened. The practice can actually place obstacles in our personal pathway to success. There are a number of reasons for this.
Like the rest of us, all role models are flawed. Hardly a month goes by that we don't find a sports hero involved in some scandal or illegal activity, or some corporate executive who has cooked the books or used company resources to finance a lavish personal lifestyle. In recent years, even the religious right has incurred spectacular casualties.
One thing that's often forgotten when we pick role models is that we select them because their performance is superior to all others. These models are truly the very best of their kind; quite often they have extraordinary skills. Is it realistic, empowering, or productive to compare our performance with the best there is?
Oddly, children seem to understand better than adults that these comparisons are a game of sorts. Young boys and girls understand that their desire to become President of the United States is not going to be fulfilled anytime soon.
When we carry the practice of making such comparisons into our adult lives, we often begin to take the results seriously. Age is no longer a spoiler. With rare exceptions, we set ourselves up for failure. We dedicate significant amounts of our limited resources of time and energy in an attempt to realize what may be unrealistic goals. Our failure to achieve these can turn us into bitter, envious, angry and disillusioned workaholics or dropouts.
So, if we take a personal stand and refuse to make such comparisons, what yardstick do we use to measure our performance? The answer is so simple that we have probably never considered it. We simply compare what we've accomplished this day, this week, this month, and this year with what we achieved yesterday, last week, last month and last year. We strive for incremental improvements in our own performance. In other words, we compete with ourselves, trying to make each day better than the one before. Endorsing this standard of performance and this form of comparison, can have what sometimes seems like magical affects.
First, we no longer find ourselves spending valuable resources trying to achieve goals that require abilities we may not possess. Second, we need not become embroiled in trying to best our peers. Third, we can reserve resources for investment in improving our own skills, abilities and life. And, fourth it eliminates non-productive distractions, i.e., we can simply focus more easily on both the here and now, and the future, i.e., on living our lives to the fullest.
All of the above factors can significantly reduce the stress of our everyday existence while making us more accomplished, not to mention the increase in confidence and satisfaction that accrue.
In my business career, this approach had a dramatic effect. I ended up being able to devote more time and energy to actually doing my job and learning from my experiences, which significantly improved my performance. What happened to my competitors? I don't hear much about them anymore, except that many of them have simply burned-out.
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Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.