My whole life I’ve struggled with a case of what I call “comparativitis“.
I have a hard time not comparing myself with others. When I do something I often look at others who have done the same thing.
It’s been both a blessing and a curse in my life.
In some ways having this ailment has been a big blessing. I get really motivated when I see others accomplish something I want to accomplish. For example, as my very closest friends (and now all of you) know, my first book Unsuited (now available on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble – my shameless plug ha!) was totally motivated by an experience that I had in 2012 where I was listening to a speaker (who was about my age) at a seminar who had a book out. My pride totally kicked in and I said to myself (and my good friend who was with me):
I’m just as smart as that guy. There is no reason why he should have a book and I shouldn’t.
So I went out and wrote a book. Pride, and comparativitis, was a good thing in this case. I compared myself to that guy, decided I was just as smart, and became totally motivated to take action to prove it.
However, in many ways comparativitis has been a real curse for me. I will often look around and see people who are more successful than me (have sold more books, have better businesses, more money) and feel a little sorry for myself. I bet some of you can relate to this dark side of comparativitis as well. It’s very dangerous.
This is something that we all know in principle – “it’s not healthy to compare ourselves to others”. We often compare our weaknesses to their (perceived) strengths. We never see the full picture however. Our view of reality is distorted. Even though it is common sense, a lot of people (including myself) struggle with it. Perhaps there are certain people who are more naturally susceptible to it. In any event, it is real.
Our economy actually thrives on it: fashion, brand names, upgrading the comforts and consumption of life. These would be virtually eliminated if we concurrently, as a society, eliminated our tendency to compare what we have (or what we are) to others.
As an adult, I’ve really had to work through it, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to come up with some strategies that work for me to keep it in check.
I can tell you, however, that without a doubt, comparativitis is an absolutely, 100% guaranteed way to be unhappy.
It is lose-lose. It never ends. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what level of success you attain to, there always seems to be someone out there who has done more, who is better, who is further ahead, and when comparativitis is present, it causes us to discount our success, discount our progress, and discount our life, relative to who we are comparing to.
It is a cancerous emotion. It grows, but leaves a wake of destruction in its path.
The greatest blessing I have in my life, to fight off my own recurring disease of comparativitis is my son Cohen. As I have wrote about at length on this blog, Cohen has a genetic condition that causes him to “march to the beat of a different drummer“. As a result, he is virtually oblivious to the opinions, and actions, of others.
But there is something unique I am noticing about him as he grows. In his own way, he gives his very best in what he does, independent of what others are doing, and independent of the consequences of his efforts.
It is actually really inspiring to me. He seems impervious to how his efforts compare to the efforts of others. When he does something that he thinks is done well, he is genuinely proud of himself, and happy in what he has done.
His ability to feel happiness for his own work is entirely based on whether he feels that his effort is good. It is completely independent of what other’s do, or how his work measures up to other’s work.
What a powerful example. What a great standard and rule to live by.
Last night Meg was hosting a baby shower, and in an effort to keep our house clean for the shower I took the kids to a local Chinese Buffet for dinner. Normally, at a buffet, I dish Cohen’s plate, and he just sits patiently at the table waiting for whatever I choose to provide him.
Last night was different. He confidently stated, as we sat down, that he wanted to dish his own plate. My first thought was, “no you will make a big mess”. My mind turned to the real possibility of a dropped plate, mixing the rice into the chicken bowl, or annoyed patrons waiting for a special boy to serve himself.
But (thankfully) I ignored my instincts and let him give it a try. I was paying full ticket for him, he had the right to serve himself. He struggled a bit, dropped some ginger beef on the floor, put the rice spoon in the noodle dish, but other than that no big deal. No angry patrons. No embarrassment for Dad.
You should have seen the look on his face when he got back to the table though. Pure Pride. Accomplishment. Success. He did it himself. He was growing into a big boy and he knew it. He didn’t think about the dropped ginger beef or the misplaced spoon. His standard was his own. He set a goal (to dish his own plate) and he accomplished it. He was happy. He was a success.
I was happy as well, and grateful that I had a Cohen in my life.