Ever heard the expression "Comparison is the thief of joy" (by Theodore Roosevelt)? I'm sure you have, as it has been used in many articles, podcasts and probably in coaching blogs! So, what does it mean? We are told that if we compare ourselves to others, we may be left with feelings of inferiority or superiority and neither creates an emotionally healthy human being!
How can we stop comparing ourselves to others?
Surely this is what we should do in order to improve ourselves - get that better mark at school, make more friends at university/work/gym/baby group. To be honest, most people find it quite hard to receive an exam grade without checking what others received before they decide whether their grade is good enough.
Mothers are all guilty of checking whose baby talked, walked, ate solid food first amongst our peers, and then either feel accomplished because our baby was the first to walk (mine was the last in our baby group!) or feel we've failed if our baby is the one still refusing to accept the pureed sweet potato we lovingly prepared.
This is how we work out where we or our children stand in the pecking order of life. This is how we work out whether we fit into society. So, to say that we shouldn't compare ourselves to others is unrealistic.
Comparison can be truly great as it can inspire you to tackle things you’ve never done before, motivate you to take that first step or even just explain life a bit more to you.
But, clearly, it can sometimes lead to feelings of inadequacy if you haven't achieved the milestone that your peers have and you fear that you are missing out. In the old days, before social media was so prevalent in our lives, we were worried that we were missing out on what our friends were doing from stories they told. Nowadays we can't get away from constant reminders on our phone and it's not just our friends that we compare ourselves to, it's anyone and everyone who has a social media account. It's about feeling that we are missing out on… life!
So, this leads me on to thinking about a period of one's life when it is all about comparison - your 20s and 30s. A time when the structured period of full-time education is over and you start making baby steps in the adult world and take responsibility for yourself. A scary time - a time which has a label - the 'quarter-life crisis' (makes sense if we assume that we live for 100 years!) which you may or may not have heard of.
What is a quarter-life crisis?
There has been much documentation about the quarter-life crisis as a crisis of confidence, of not having achieved what you thought you would have achieved by a certain age and panicking that you won’t ever achieve it. A crisis that everyone else is in a great job, has great friends, has a great partner, has a great social life (always has weekend plans) and you are the only one who doesn't have these things. You feel a failure - a freak even.
The quarter-life crisis can also be a fear of taking that first step into a career, a relationship, a new home, as you are scared that you will be going down a path of no return and you will be stuck.
What can you do about it?
The best way to start moving forward out of this crisis is to remember the following three things:
- Acknowledge that you are not alone in feeling like this - this is where comparison can be very healthy. Start talking to friends and family and voice your fears and worries.
- Remember that life is truly different nowadays, just because your parents met when they were 23 and had you by the time they were 30 doesn't mean that this is what you should do. People do things much later now and that is OK.
- Appreciate the fact that nothing has to be forever. Nowadays you don't have to have a job for life - if you don't enjoy the first one, then move on until you find the right place for you. You are allowed to try things out until you find the right job/person/house for you. Passion is something that you have to find - not something you are born with!
If you are the type of person that sometimes needs help to move forward, then consider talking to an independent life coach who meets you where you are today, doesn't have any pre-conceived ideas about you and can help you formulate a plan, with tangible actions to achieve your goal, whatever it might be.
So, comparison doesn't have to lead to anxiety - it can also be positive if you approach it in the right way.