To Stop Comparing Yourself to Others, Decide in Advance What Success Looks Like
There’s a saying, “comparison is misery.” Until fairly recently, I knew that was true, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. Most of the advice I heard was in the vein of, yeah, that’s a problem, don’t compare yourself to others.
This was, of course, unhelpful—just like most advice that simply says “don’t do this thing that’s hard to stop.” It’s like telling someone who’s trying to quit smoking that they should quit smoking. They already know that! They want to. They’re just trying to figure out how.
So this brings me to today’s post. The concept I’ll show you today is the one and only thing that’s helped me work through comparison anxiety.
The task at hand is simple: come to a decision for yourself on what is enough.
Enough what? Enough of anything that you might feel inner conflict over or look to others for benchmarks. Enough to eliminate the friction between limited time and limitless desire.
Money gives us an obvious example to work with. Consider it through the story of the hedge fund trader who just couldn’t stop.
Some stories about famous robberies begin with framing the decision to steal as a choice between death or survival, perhaps addressing an injustice along the way. In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jean Valjean went to prison after stealing bread for his sister’s family.
Raj Rajaratnam‘s story was the complete opposite. Rajaratnam was a hedge fund trader with a net worth of $1.3 billion. But in 2011, long after he’d acquired this tremendous wealth, he was found guilty of insider trading and sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Just consider how crazy this is. After he has a BILLION dollars, he thinks, “What should I do with my life?”—and then decides the best answer is to try to get a few million more.
What happened there? Maybe it was an addiction or compulsion. Perhaps he was envious of another billionaire with a slightly better yacht or rocket ship to Mars.
Or it could be that this was just the only life he knew. If you build your life around more, you’ll never have enough.
So that’s the example. Now let’s unpack it a little, because it’s easy to judge a billionaire. I know what you’re thinking: If I had a billion dollars, that would be more than enough! … and most likely that’s true. But how do you really know?
Assume that you don’t have as much money as you’d like right not. If things are better and you’re not stressed about finances, think back to a time in your life in which money was a big struggle. In that situation (whether now or in the past), how much money would you need to feel secure? Where would you reach the point of enough?
If you don’t have a specific answer, you won’t ever know you’ve made it. The decisions you make, the life you live, what you leave behind and what you choose—all of these important forks in the road will lack any measurement of success.
*Success here meaning financial security. Obviously that’s not the only definition of success, but for the purposes of the example, it fits.
In other words, even though you won’t go to prison for insider trading (hopefully), you’re not much better off the billionaire trader who did.
You could have done so much more with your life if only you’d had a goalpost! You could have stopped worrying about money and moved on to something much more important.
It’s Not Just About Money
Not having an answer to “What is enough?” affects more than your relationship with money. If you work independently, you might have the tendency to just keep starting projects over and over, with no idea of a finish line or even a series of milestones.
I love working on my own, but the challenging thing is that the work never ends. Unless I make it stop, of course—and that is the challenge.
In a future post, I’ll write a follow-up about how you can set markers for creative work that help you feel more at peace. For now, just remember the question: What is enough? Knowing an answer is much better than not knowing.
If you build your life around always wanting more, you’ll never have enough. The solution is to decide in advance what “enough” looks like. That way, you have a goal to aim for, and also a marker in which you can then reallocate your focus elsewhere.
If you decide what is sufficient, for any resource—money being an obvious one—you’ll make better decisions. You’ll stop comparing yourself to others as much.
As a bonus, most likely you’ll also stay out of prison.
Images: 1, 2, 3