One of the prevailing ideas touted on social sites suggests that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. Instead, the argument goes that you should try to be a little bit better than you were yesterday. While incremental improvement has merit, and progress is better than perfection, the idea doesn’t raise the bar by any significant measure. If you allow me a few paragraphs and as many minutes, let me make the case that there are very positive reasons to compare yourself to others.
You Have No Idea How Much Runway You Have
No human being has ever reached their full potential. Not Da Vinci. Not Einstein. Not Buffett. Not Goggins. Well, maybe Goggins. But certainly not you or me. Each one of us is pure potential.
If you are honest, you know you are capable of becoming something more than you are now, doing more than you are doing now, having more than you have now, and contributing more than you provide now. Recently, a person criticized me and the ideas in that last sentence. What would be the value in being less, doing less, having less, and contributing less? More still, what would be the value in standing still, stagnating, and not striving to reach your full potential? That must be a cardinal sin.
In Catholic grade school, my report card provided two grades for each class, a letter grade and a grade for my effort. I routinely brought home a grade card dominated by the score C4. The C was the grade I earned, and the 4 was the effort I put forth to produce that grade. I never got in trouble for the C, but I was punished for the 4. The number 4 was an indication that I didn’t lift a finger and proof positive I was capable of more. A grade of D1, however, would have been acceptable, as it would have suggested I tried my best.
I tried very hard to drop out of high school. I graduated college summa cum laude, still arguing I didn’t deserved better than the B+ I received in Religion. I also graduated law school cum laude, working full time, and welcoming three children into the world (not the best timing, and not something I recommend). I chose to be a C student in high school.
You have runway, but it’s difficult to know how much without measuring your state against the results of others. You might feel good to measure yourself against people who aren’t doing as well as you, but it won’t provide you with an accurate idea of what is possible for you. Most of us have little awareness of what we are capable of, and even fewer are willing to look deep enough to discover our capacity, let alone compare ourselves to others—one of the ways to develop a vision of what is possible.
Models and Visions
How do I know you are capable of more? There are people right now producing the result you want for yourself. Some of them have natural attributes and talents you may be lacking. It is also true that other people producing those results possess fewer skills and ability than you.
The reason you want to compare yourself to others is to acquire a vision of what is possible for you. What one person can do, another person can do. An unwillingness to look at another person’s results for inspiration and with admiration for their achievements deprives you of a model. It is helpful to look at someone who has already discovered how to acquire whatever it is that you want.
A model of what you want can fast track your results by providing you with the beliefs, the strategies, and the process on which they built their achievements and results. You can shorten your learning curve. You might also reduce the time it takes to produce the same effect, even though some things require the time and effort and refuse any attempt to shorten the process (sometimes you have to stay on the mat long enough to gain mastery).
Why wouldn’t you compare what you are doing to what your model is doing to find areas of improvement?
Inspiration Not Envy
Every master was once a beginner. I know of no exception to this rule.
The idea that you should not compare yourself to others is that you might feel bad about yourself, that you might become discouraged or give up. That doesn’t have to be true. It can inspire you and help you break through obstacles.
When I was a teenager playing in rock bands, those of us in groups would criticize the bands that were better than we were. We’d stand at the back of the bar, arms crossed, trying to look cool, and talking poorly about the better band on stage. At some point, I started to deconstruct why those bands were better than my bands, so I could figure out why people liked them. They were better players than we were, they covered popular songs while we played all originals, and they worked harder than we did. Figuring that out resulted in headlining and instead of opening for other bands.
Those who suggest you not compare yourself to the masters for guidance also worry about envy, an emotion worse than jealousy because instead of wishing you had what they have, you resent their having it at all. When you see someone who performs better than you now, you do not see their beginning, their origin story; you are seeing them after they’ve put in the effort and figured things out. How do you know what good is supposed to look if you don’t measure the difference between you and someone else as a model? How do you deconstruct what it takes to create the outcome you want if you aren’t allowed to contrast your results with theirs?
You compare yourself to others because doing so inspires you to act. The person or persons you are comparing yourself to provide you with a roadmap of how to produce a specific outcome you want.
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