How can I stop comparing myself to other people?
July 1, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop comparing myself to other people?

A little navel-gazey, but bear with me..

I've found that my one most persistently self-defeating pattern is the tendency to compare myself to other people. Be it coworkers, people I went to school with, old friends, new friends, someone I met at a party, even writers and thinkers that I idolize – the pattern is the same. I look at someone else's skills, talents, and achievements, and I think, "I'm not good enough to do that" or "I'll never measure up to XXXX" or "they know they're better than me and they're judging me". It's a nagging feeling of intimidation that tends to crop up especially around very motivated and accomplished people.

I also have a sense that the constant interconnectedness of the web and the "never-ending high school reunion" effect of facebook et al kind of exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy. Even if I know intellectually that I shouldn't care if so-and-so went to law school (and even though I don't even want to go to law school), I feel this ghostly apparition of some authority figure hanging over my head saying, "why can't you accomplish something for once?" There's a constant sense that I'm not doing enough and I'm not pushing myself hard enough; then I get stressed out, and resign myself to mediocrity, fluctuating between two extremes – one where i have resigned myself to failure, and one where I have to be hustling to play catch up.

Which is silly because I know that using my peers as a barometer for my own success is only going to make me feel miserable and confused. I would like to measure my success by a realistic and useful standard instead of dealing with the anxiety of comparison.

Now, I understand that looking at how you measure up to your peers is part of being a social hominid, but that tendency (in myself at least) tends to get way out of hand. I end up thinking along the lines of "Why bother learning to paint when XXXX is so much better?". It limits my own ambitions instead of challenging me, and it's not healthy.

So how can I learn to ignore these feelings, or at least squash the tendency to let my immediate fear of inadequacy define me and be a little more relaxed about life? Surely someone else has the same issue.
posted by deathpanels to Human Relations (26 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Your problem isn't that you are comparing yourself to other people. It's that you are only comparing yourself to people that you think are better than you.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:24 PM on July 1, 2012 [19 favorites]

It helps to remember that 90% of people are full of crap. (Or if you wish to phrase it more politely, they project a much more successful image of themselves than is actually the reality.)

Try to hone your BS radar when looking at others and I think you'll eventually find you have very little to feel inadequate about.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:27 PM on July 1, 2012

Best answer: I think it's pretty normal to apply a double standard, and I'd bet money you are.
The things we've done seem normal to us, while the things other people have done seem exotic and beyond that normal.

Because we define what is normal from our own experiences, we don't judge fairly, and it's quite normal for two people to both secretly think the other is doing better.

It's hard to see past this. For all you know, something that is quite meaningless to you is something that impresses the person you are impressed by. But more awareness of the problem can help, and openness to the idea that this or that thing that you've always dismissed... it's actually a bit unusual.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:29 PM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: MegoSteve: "Your problem isn't that you are comparing yourself to other people. It's that you are only comparing yourself to people that you think are better than you."

I'm going to have to disagree with you. If you make yourself feel better by comparing yourself favorably with someone else in a particular area, and then they end up somehow exceeding you in that area in a later date, you'll only feel worse. Comparing yourself to others always has the potential to be toxic. Worse, when you compare yourself with those you think are "less than" you, it's inevitable you're going to end up being judgmental towards others.*

Everyone's experience is probably different, but when I was comparing myself with others it was generally in areas that, in the long run, just don't really matter. For me that was things like athletic prowess, musical/artistic ability, and wealth/income. Although all of these things will earn you admiration or recognition from others, that only really works if you are successful in these areas, and these are areas in which it's really really easy to be unsuccessful. They certainly aren't things that you have to have in order to live a fulfilling, happy and/or successful life.

The trick is to find things about yourself that you like, which you can appreciate yourself for, and things about yourself that you don't like but which respond well to small incremental changes, so you can improve the person you are over time by comparing your current with your past self and (hopefully) seeing an improvement.

I found that when I stopped worrying about being good at things that I just wasn't ever going to be that good at, I compared myself less and less with other people. Now, I focus mostly on things I do very well, along with trying to be better at interacting with people. This way, I can feel really good about the things I'm good at, and I can work in areas where I'm not as good but where it actually matters.

* For a long time, I felt, acted, and behaved as though I was smarter than most of the people I interacted with. This is an incredibly unhelpful position to take and backfires. It's generally better to assume that everyone you meet is as smart or smarter than you, and that they have something worthwhile to teach you. Note that it's hard to do this if you hold on to the need to compare yourself to others as a source of self-worth. It only hurts you to think someone else is smarter than you if you take that to mean that you're somehow a worse person on some giant imaginary chart. If you choose not to care as much about such things, you can acknowledge and appreciate the talents, skills, and wisdom of others even when it is greater than your own, without feeling the same pangs of inferiority.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:45 PM on July 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

I have almost asked this same question, but have been scared of the answers. In my family we have a saying; "At least we still get to be us." Sometimes it's more helpful than others, but 99% of the time, I'd still rather be ME than any of the people I perceive as being better than me.

A couple weekends ago, I bought a car (much to the dismay of at least one commenter here...ha). It's the nicest car I've ever had. It's perfect for me, and it is exactly what I wanted. I was so excited to go to work and show everyone ( rude is that?), and when I got to work TWO other women also had new cars. One is a coworker I love very much, and she needed a new car even more than I had (and I needed one pretty badly), and the other was our former intern who has just now been hired (and she got a brand new, not used, way nicer and more expensive car than I did). Instead of feeling HAPPY for my FRIENDS who deserve nice things, I went, "Wow I guess my new car sucks, and both of them make more money than me, and now I am not special." And seriously, telling you this now is very embarrassing and makes me feel terrible. But a couple weeks ago it felt so important. Ugh.

Anyway, now that I have had time for it to all sink in, I am finally in the "At least I still get to be me" mode. I LOVE the car I got. Even if I had $30k, I would still buy what I did! And even if I was a brand-new-leather-seats-car kind of person, my co-worker getting one has zero effect on my life. She deserves to be happy. And maybe she has a nice-ass car, but also a health problem I can't see. Or maybe she hates her life. Or who the hell knows. But I am trying to remember that other peoples' successes do not take anything away from me, and that I have to be me my entire life, so I may as well enjoy it. I get to live in a mostly-decent country. I can afford food and toilet paper and a CAR and pets and a house, and wow...that's pretty cool. So my house was cheap and so was my car, and some people have 50 cars. That's just life, and I feel way better when I don't think about it than when I do.

Also sometimes I might tell myself that in my next life I'll get to be super ultra rich and successful.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:46 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

First, I can't vouch for the following website in general and don't usually like to push self-help, but I found its points (#1-5) to be helpful. I had the same trouble as you and I think this is actually common for many people. It helped me to listen to my inner chatter. I started writing down the random thoughts and disputing them based on good ol' Cognitive Behavioral Therapy's types of cognitive distortions in thinking, which are very common. Just starting with awareness of the thoughts and questioning them can help. (In this answer, I can think "Oh this is so stupid...other MeFites will think I'm stupid for putting these links here...But so what?)
posted by snap_dragon at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, and for areas that you're not good in, just do them without any thoughts of being better, just to do them.

For example, I've never been great at art at all. But one school year I took an art class which required me to draw something every day. I was forced to really sit down and look at something and draw it carefully. The first half of the year I remember being pretty focused on how terrible my drawing was compared to everyone else. The second half, something clicked and I just started to focus on the process of drawing. It's then that I did my best work.

So don't stop painting because you'll never paint as good as XXXX. Realize that XXXX's abilities and skills at painting have nothing to do with your process of painting. Just keep reminding yourself of that. And eventually, you will get better at painting -- not necessarily better than XXXX, but better than you were.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:49 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

The trick is this - don't compare your insides to anyone's outsides. It will never be a fair comparison. It never is, for anyone.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:04 PM on July 1, 2012 [15 favorites]

It makes me wonder if you are "twice eceptional" -- if you are generally bright but maybe have some undiagnosed or unrecognized handicap of some sort which leaves you personally feeling frustrated.

I was STAR student, national merit scholarship winner, inducted into Mu Alpha Theta in 11th grade, etc. Everyone expected me to accomolish big things and be a millionaire by age thirty and all that. I got married young and did the wife and mom thing and always felt like I just never did enough. I was always frustrated and wondered "what is wrong with me??"

Then I nearly died and was diagnosed late in life with a genetic disorder. The "lack of accomplishment" was due to my health issues, which had been previously interpretted as laziness and the like. The fact that I just didn't have the energy had not been recognized.

Nearly dying is the best thing that ever happened to me. I finally had the information I needed to get my act together. Getting myself well has also helped me get over the accusations I am an egomaniac or something. I have done something the entire world claims cannot be done. I did it to save my life, not to impress anyone or make money or some crap. Telling my story is mostly met with open hostility. It certainly doesn't get me ego strokes. But it puts in perspective what I am capable of in objectively measurable terms, not social comparison terms. That has made me more grounded, which has been wonderful. It allows me to have confidence in my abilities, not in an egomaniacal way but more like the idea of statistical "confidence": That I have a clear idea for the first time where I stand and what I can do.

Twice exceptional people often live with enormous frustration and terrible self esteem issues. Being bright tends to mask the problems. Having some disbility tends to mask their gifts. They appear to be "average" and are frequently accused of thinking too highly if their own ability. For such people, getting a realistic handle on what is going on can be very freeing. It sounds to me like you may be comparing yourself to others in some attempt to get a handle on yourself. Twice exceptional people often benefit enormously from finally getting appropriately diagnosed or assessed so they can more realistically guage their own abilities.
posted by Michele in California at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well, I stopped comparing myself to them by first really comparing myself to them.

To pick one of a bunch of examples I could use from my life: I went to high school with someone who for various reasons I wish I could totally forget but who is semi-famous now. He got famous by doing a dumb public thing that billions of people unexpectedly loved. Not as dumb as, say, being on Jersey Shore, but he's sort of that kind of famous-for-nothing. His fame-and-riches producing stunt is partially related to what I do for a living, so I hear about him ALL THE TIME. (And I'm not even on Facebook.)

I could compare myself to him and say we're the same age, from the same place, and no matter how hard I work I'll likely never have the recognition he does. But I happen to know some personal things about him. A, he's an idiot. Except for some technical computer-related skills which I understand he does (or once did) well, he has roughly the mental capacity of a dim tween. (We're in our 30s.) B, he's a racist, not because he's hateful but because he's too dumb to learn new things about other people. C, he treats his close friends and partner badly. And there's some more, rather disgusting personal stuff I won't get into.

Large-ish swaths of the public think this guy is the best thing since sliced bread, but though I once would have compared myself to him, I can't now. Knowing all these unfortunate things about him, I'd never want to trade my curiosity, integrity, actual quality work, and respectful relationships for his life. Even though a surface comparison makes him out to be the winner. So if you're going to compare, go deep. You might not come off the worse at all once you're finished.

There's a positive aspect to this, too. A while ago I was comparing my (tiny) blog to someone else's (wildly successful) blog. Then I read a post in which the other blogger broke down the hours she spent on aspects of her blog. I don't do nearly that much. So while I'll probably never have that kind of success, due to subject matter and other factors, it turned out that I could actually learn something from her rather than just being resentful.

(I think this is a really long-winded way of saying "don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides" or whatever that oft-cited phrase is.)

On preview: Yes, the one seawallrunner just said!
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh no, I keep reloading to see how many favorites my answer got.

Note that for me, comparing myself to others never really stopped, I just toned it down a lot and it's no longer front and center of my existence. But those voices will always be there. So part of it is learning to make peace with those voices.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:12 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

This may sound afterschool-special-esque, but... If you work on discovering what truly makes you happy, and devote energy to pursuing it, the comparison habit will likely decrease. The world is full of miserable people that have achieved traditional measures of success, and there are tons of happy people that might look miserable on paper. You're probably comparing yourself to others because some part of you thinks it will indirectly steer you towards how to be happy, perhaps by punishing yourself for your current unhappiness.

The people I'm most likely to feel envious of are those who seem truly happy, something I'd like to achieve at some point. Conveniently, those people don't seem particularly interested in judging or looking down on others.
posted by yorick at 3:37 PM on July 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Even if I know intellectually that I shouldn't care if so-and-so went to law school (and even though I don't even want to go to law school), I feel this ghostly apparition of some authority figure hanging over my head saying, "why can't you accomplish something for once?"

And you have the right idea here--just keep thinking about how much you don't want to go to law school (or whatever it is.) It gets better as you become more confident in what you really do want for yourself. I just found out someone I know, who last year was doing the same things as I was for a certain client, just got promoted. I could have possibly gotten that job too if I'd wanted it all along, but I didn't. In fact I've turned down several things in that line that they offered me because I HATED that side of the business. So when I saw her new title, I had a momentary twinge of "oh of course she got that, blah blah." Then I remembered I'd run screaming from that job if I had to do it. Sure, it looks better and more accomplished, and in some ways it really is, but for my professional goals, it wouldn't be worth the daily torment of actually having to do it.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 3:55 PM on July 1, 2012

What I do is remind myself that I value the journey and the experience. Even if I will never be a world famous painter (I won't), or win Mother of the Year award or whatever, I try to regard my life as a privilege, and each of the things I get to do, work or relationship wise as a unique and treasured moment/experience that forms the rich tapestry of my time here (on this planet). I don't always succeed, but when I do, there is no comparison - it's all about me (yay!) and the things I get to try. Even if I fail at something, I was able to try it, and that's all good.
posted by b33j at 4:00 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would like to measure my success by a realistic and useful standard...

Can you say what this would look like? Not that you need to outline it here, but can you articulate this to yourself?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:16 PM on July 1, 2012

"Why bother learning to paint when XXXX is so much better?"

Because you can.

You stop comparing yourself to other people by doing what you want to do because it will be meaningful and important to you.

If you don't do things because you're afraid you'll never be as good as someone else, you're wasting your life. If you do things because everyone else is, you'll be like the dog chasing its own tail.
posted by heyjude at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also have a sense that the constant interconnectedness of the web and the "never-ending high school reunion" effect of facebook et al kind of exacerbates my feelings of inadequacy.

I call this the FB effect. I don't know how old you are but if you are a teenager or a young adult, I urge you to look at the possibility of living your life without a FB account. You don't have to delete your profile for-ever. But you don't have to look at it more times in a day than you use a restroom either.

I understand that looking at how you measure up to your peers is part of being a social hominid,

I am not sure I completely agree with that, definitely not how far you have taken this measuring-up business- I mean comparisons with painting, a hobby?!? And, that would make one miserable social hominid.

The good thing is that you are very insightful. You already know that this thought process is going out of hand. Comparing yourself to others, is only second to attachment in causing suffering. While a professional level of comparison is a good thing while done under check, you have to realise that there is always going to be someone richer, smarter, prettier, funnier, sexier and popular. Are you going to compare yourself to each and everyone on the planet?

A deeper phenomenon that accompanies this comparison is that we sometimes tend to not value ourselves as a person. By that I mean, say your friend L comes to you and says to you exactly what you wrote here. What would you tell L? You are not going to concur and say, " Oh L, you suck compared to N. You better quit painting altogether. I mean, what's the point of it anyway?". No, you won't do that. Then when you think about the same thing, why not treat yourself as your best friend and give yourself the same excellent and supportive advice you'd give to a dear friend? Value yourself as an individual. Cherish your talents as blessings or uniqueness of your individual personality.

So how can I learn to ignore these feelings, or at least squash the tendency to let my immediate fear of inadequacy define me and be a little more relaxed about life?

One thing you won't get away with doing to feelings is to ignore them. Face them. Sit with your thoughts. Think about why this thinking is not positive. Why it doesn't make you happier? Introspect and contemplate. And make it a practice.

Sure, all of us at some point make comparisons to other people. If you look at a lot of man-made misery on the planet, and sit and think about it, you'll realise that much of it stems from comparison. So, you are far from alone in this.

If you are a woman, you are especially prone to this kind of thinking. Partly because of how women are raised, how societies are structured etc. And in this case it takes more effort to recognize the problem (which you have already done!) and address it. It takes more effort but it can be done. It should be done if you want to be happy.
posted by xm at 5:33 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

paradoxically, the best way to get yourself to stop comparing yourself to others is to stop trying to get yourself to stop. there's nothing wrong with you. just be how you are.
posted by facetious at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2012

I deal with the same issue. Two things:

1) Just recognizing that this is something that you tend to do is helpful. Over time, you will get better and better at noticing when you're doing it, and once you notice, you can just dismiss it instead of unconsciously accepting it as true.

2) "I feel this ghostly apparition of some authority figure..." Not to get all armchair psychologist on you, but I'm betting that this apparition is of a specific authority figure, perhaps one of your parents? Spend some time thinking about how their standards are not necessarily your standards.
posted by callmejay at 5:43 PM on July 1, 2012

Going to chime in here about ditching Facebook from the point of view of someone who did it: I deactivated my account a couple of months ago and OH MY GOD am I ever so much happier, for it was making me miserable (or I was making myself miserable using it) in all the ways you describe.

It took two days to get used to having it off of my list of links I habitually checked. I cannot recommend it enough. I am keeping my account around as a contact book but nothing more. I had to go in and reactivate it the other day because I needed to contact some people but I made the mistake of reading some statuses and BOOM! All those same feelings were right where I left them. So I got the info I needed and left, having confirmed without a doubt that living without Facebook means living IN my own life, and I'm much happier.
posted by mireille at 7:06 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is something I struggle with, too.

I've found that the Comparison Voice is actually just a part of a whole species of distracting and unpleasant mental chatter, and that engaging with it is exactly the wrong thing to do. Finding other things I'm good at, pointing out to it that it's looking at people's outsides and I'm looking at my insides, realising that other people are bad at other things -- none of it helps, because I'm still ultimately buying into the premise that my worth is properly measured relative to other people, and that the value of an activity depends on how well I do it.

What I've had more success with is treating Comparison Voice like I would a tantruming child. Notice it, feel vaguely amused, DO NOT ENGAGE, and move on. The trick is not to berate yourself for having the thought, or to suppress it (because then you spend all your mental energy on doing the suppressing); the trick is to just observe it, and then refocus your attention on whatever it is you are doing. For instance, if I'm stuck on a hard problem at work and think "God I suck, [Bob] would do a lot better with this" then after noticing the thought, I try to then reorient ("What function am I solving for again? How does X relate to Y here?"). If that is too abstract to effectively focus on, I try to reorient by making myself notice the actual physical situation (Here I am, with my pen and paper - feel the hardness of the pen, notice the light, etc) and THEN go for the abstract. It involves a continuous mental awareness, but like I said, I think it does really help.

The point is to continually remind yourself that life is about doing what you want to be doing, and other people aren't part of that. So feed the part of you that is concentrating on doing and starve the part that wants to obsess about how others would do it (or view you for doing it).
posted by forza at 7:10 PM on July 1, 2012 [16 favorites]

I popped in to say much the same thing as yorick – find what makes you truly happy, and do that. Do it because you enjoy it, not for external achievement. Comparison voices will still be around, but it's more mitigated, and when you take the time to discover things you love, you get to know yourself better, and it becomes easier to use the comparisons as information. "Wow, I can't believe how jealous my friend's genuine Birkin bag makes me. Why is that, since I never wanted one in the first place? Ohhh, it's because she genuinely wanted one, and she has someone who cares so much about her, that he got her one. They're really happy together. Wow. That's neat. A relationship like that would be great."

Because if you want an anecdotal example, I have a couple of friends who are, like, the motherlode of people others could be jealous of. One is a famous musician, and another is recognizably famous in both face and name. She has mansions (plural), cars the type you see in Monaco (plural, as well), and both of them travel extensively. Plus they're neat people overall, and have very happy, long-term marriages (which I know because I also know their spouses, who are genuinely good people too).

I'm happy to see them succeed, because it's clear they're doing what makes them happy. And so am I. From my youngest age, I wanted to travel the world and speak foreign languages. I could only dream of visiting places like Florence and Venice in Italy, Paris, and maybe, maybe if my wildest dreams came true, I could also visit other cities in France. Welp, here I am today, living on the French Riviera. I've visited more cities, villages, forests, mountains, farms and vineyards in France than I can count. I've been to Corsica, practically all the major cities in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, lived in Finland for two years, visited Stockholm and London, and spent three weeks in China, thanks to a French friend who lives in Beijing. I've worked in Monaco and have a yearly subscription to the Opéra de Monte Carlo.

And that's just the surface stuff. My work and hobbies bring me joy too, not to mention my adorable puffy fluff-ball cats.

It's pretty hard to get down on yourself when you're faced with the fruits of your efforts every single day :) Not to say it never happens, but that when it does, it has a lot more to do with difficulties of my own, rather than anything related to comparisons.
posted by fraula at 1:21 AM on July 2, 2012

I would like to measure my success by a realistic and useful standard instead of dealing with the anxiety of comparison.

There's kind of a saying that gets passed around in the BJJ/Judo world. Paraphrased, it's something like: Don't compare yourself to other people. Compare yourself to yourself from yesterday. As long as you're better than you were yesterday, you're making progress.

These are kind of rough, contact sports where you always know who is better than you. The idea is that that guy being better than you today isn't important; getting better at these things is a really long and difficult process. The people who are better than you at this today? They've probably spent years more than you, training five times a week. You're not going to wake up tomorrow better at this than them. So it's important to focus on little victories, like being better at something than you were yesterday. And if you keep at it, one day you realize that most of the people who started with you quit, and that those little victories have made you better than a large number of people ... and that that doesn't really matter anymore.

(This is also a sport where attachment to outcomes becomes counter-productive, because fear of failure results in not trying new things, which leads to stagnation.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that trying your very best is all you can ask of yourself; asking for more than you are capable of (because there's not enough time, or money, or luck or whatever), isn't really fair to yourself.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:27 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts (sorry if they've been mentioned; I didn't read the whole thread):

1. There wasn't a lightning-bolt moment, but after reading a few bits of broad world history and biographies of dead famous people - Lincoln, Truman, T. Roosevelt, Franklin - I was able to stop comparing myself to others on account of the fact that there are billions of people out there now and are billions of dead people who were more accomplished than I am and ever will be. When you put your accomplishments in the context of everything else that has been done and is being done (and will be done, to take it a step further), it minimizes them to the point where you have to accept them as personal successes - or, if you want to look at them darkly - useless actions in a void of cosmic dust. As a bonus, that context forces everyone else's accomplishments to seem trivial in the big picture. It sort of levels the playing field. College roommate just got a great job at a law firm? Throughout history, so did millions of others. You just happen to know this person.

2. I was going driving into Canada with some friends, and the border guard asked my friend who was driving, "What do you all do for a living?" (There were five of us.) My friend the driver says, "Well, I'm a CPA, and we have a doctor, a lawyer, and an engineer. And this guy next to me (me) is an unemployed scoreboard operator." I'll never forget that moment; it was humbling, but at the same time, freeing. Here were these four traditionally successful people, and me, the unemployed guy. I didn't care. I had friends, and we were all in the same position at the moment. I knew I was happy. (By the way, the doctor often can't leave his house on weekends because he needs to be available, the lawyer was laid off from his swanky gig in NYC and hasn't had a full-time gig for three years, the engineer remains socially trapped, and the CPA blew up his life by having an affair and getting fired from his job. I still love them all.) I don't know if this helps.
posted by st starseed at 7:45 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I once had a therapist tell me the only person you can fairly compare yourself to is yourself. I don't know why, but that little bit of wisdom helped me change a life-long maladaptive pattern of comparing myself unfavorably to others. The way I think of it, every single person is a special snowflake formed from a unique interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Even identical twins have different strengths and weaknesses.

It is absolutely unfair to try to compare two people with different family backgrounds (genetic predispositions, inherited values, etc), educational histories (degree/type of education, learning disabilities, etc.) intellectual abilities (learning style, predilection for math vs. language, innate aptitudes and limitations), personalities and emotional landscapes (introverted vs. extroverted, anxious vs. calm, varying degrees of narcissism, insecurity, self-confidence, paranoia, etc.). When you consider how many different ways you and I are different from all the people we want to compare ourselves to, it seems silly to think that those comparisons mean anything. Yes, it sometimes seems like there is objective evidence that Person A is better at something than Person B (test scores, for example), but what you might not consider is all the other ways that Person B might outperform Person A or the reasons why Person A did better on that particular assessment. It's not as simple as one person is better and one person is worse. People are complex and comparing them like that reductionist and kind of silly.

So whenever I get the urge to put myself down because of someone else's achievements, I remind myself that the only meaningful comparison I can make is to myself, and I'm a lot more satisfied with who I am now than who I ever was in the past. If that's not true for you, then that's a good place to start. As long as I feel like I'm the best version of myself that I have ever been, the comparisons don't carry the same strength.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 8:17 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you haven't seen this AskMe, you might find some of the comments there relevant: I'm the best at being unexceptional
posted by Salamandrous at 11:15 AM on July 2, 2012

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