We are constantly confronted by other’s achievements on social media, in magazines, online, and television; in what many describe as a self-promoting society. We have a natural desire to compare ourselves to others, to see where we fit in the world. However, it’s hard not to constantly compare ourselves in a negative way; it could be a status update on Facebook, a colleague who seems to be getting preferential treatment from your manager or the career success of a friend.
However, comparing yourself to others can be debilitating and is an inaccurate and unrealistic measuring stick.
When we compare ourselves in the workplace it can have an incredibly negative impact on our self-esteem. Take, for example, an introverted manager who feels energised after periods of solitude. How does she benefit by comparing herself to a gregarious, outgoing manager who gets bored by an hour alone with himself?
Self-esteem refers to how we view and think about ourselves and the value that we place on ourselves as a person. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to others to dictate our own value, we won’t be able to feel stable or happy with ourselves for any solid length of time. Our own perceived value will fluctuate like a share price.
Comparison can be productive if you’re inspired to emulate another’s impressive traits. However, it becomes dysfunctional when it stirs envy and jealousy, if you judge yourself as better or worse than others. Interestingly, it’s more common to feel inferior to those with “more” than to feel grateful compared to those with “less.”
Why Do We Compare Ourselves?
Comparison starts from day one. Babies are compared to each other. Who is the smartest, cutest…or even walks first? Many of us grew up being compared to others. Perhaps you were compared to siblings, or to other children in your class. Schools often inadvertently encourage comparison by grading children according to ability. In fact, most of the environments children participate in include comparisons. So before we even step in to a competitive business environment, we are already hard-wired to compare. We often compare ourselves to others when we are feeling dissatisfied or stressed. Competitive people tend to compare themselves to others frequently.
What external criteria do we compare ourselves against?
Here are some typical areas people compare themselves against. Do you find yourself comparing against any of these criteria:
> Financial rewards, e.g. Salary/bonuses
> Career or job success
> Who gets the best projects
> Favouritism by managers/others
> Quality of relationships with others
> Work/life balanceAcademic/educational qualifications
> Physical attractiveness
> Socio-economic status
> Ability to cope with stress
Comparing yourself to others on the basis of external conditions leads you to feel either superior or inferior. Both positions are unhealthy because you’re putting down yourself or others.
Sometimes competition can be a good thing; it drives you to push the boundaries in your own business or at a company. However, organisations that breed internal competition can often end up in a situation where “beating” the opponent and looking good gets in the way of doing meaningful work or fully leveraging the benefits of teamwork.
How does it affect us?
Comparing ourselves can lead to feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, self-consciousness. Over a prolonged period of time can affect our self-esteem. It can also affect our behaviour and judgement of others – whereby we become overly critical or ourselves and others.
Social Comparison…’downward and upward comparisons’
Focusing on similarities between you and people doing well will likely lead to feeling good. Focusing on differences between you and people doing poorly will likely lead to feeling good.But if you focus on differences between you and someone doing well, or similarities between you and someone doing poorly, you’ll likely feel worse.
How to Use Comparisons Positively
Remember it is impossible to ever feel happy if you are constantly comparing yourself to others. Individuals are unique and hold many different facets to who they are. Personalities, backgrounds, experiences, values and ambitions are just a few of the complex factors that differentiate people.
> Comparison can help if used as a positive learning tool – we can learn by others’ attitudes, skills, approach etc.
> Have empathy and compassion for yourself
> Use comparison as a tool to understand and accept yourself more
> Be aware of and be willing to admit feelings of jealousy
> Appreciate others strengths and understand the differences between them and you