Stop Playing The Comparison Game

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At the end of each year, I become nostalgic about successes and failures, and what things I am looking forward to in the year ahead. For me, 2017 was a year of transition. I travelled to Tanzania, moved countries, and started graduate school. My confidence, strength, and patience were tested in ways in which I had never experienced before. I’ve learned a few things as a result, specifically the danger of continually comparing myself to other people.

I started off 2017 with a month-long trip to Tanzania with my best friend, Kenna. Both of us had just graduated from college, and we wanted to spend time together and travel before the “real world” started. I was feeling lost when we were planning this trip, as Kenna had already secured a great job post-graduation, and I was still waiting to hear back about graduate school. Neither one of us had ever been to Tanzania, let alone Africa, but we were both passionate about working to empower other women, so when we found Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA), we booked our tickets. GHTA is a small NGO that teaches women English, business, and vocational skills so that they can launch their own small businesses. The women we worked with were aged 22-50, and had little to no opportunity to further their education.

Despite my initial excitement after our arrival, I quickly began to doubt my ability to teach these women anything of value, as I was a mere twenty-two-year-old girl with what felt like few life experiences in comparison. These women had incredible grit and perseverance to succeed and provide for their families – I was learning an immense amount from them, but what could I possibly teach them in return? It turns out that it was simple dialogue that was perhaps the most valuable thing I could contribute. We had conversations on sexual health, domestic violence, and world politics. They asked me questions about my culture, I asked them questions about theirs. There was no judgement between us when there were differences in opinions or outlook, only a recognition of that difference. It gave me a realization of how little I experienced this respect for difference in my everyday life.

My next big move in 2017 was literally moving across the world – from Boulder, Colorado to London, England. I was beyond excited to be moving to such a global city, one in which I had dreamed of visiting for many years. I had anxiously waited for months to hear if I had been accepted to graduate school. When I received my acceptance letter, I was elated. I carefully prepared both my suitcase and my brain for the adventure. I researched the past graduates of the LSE, amazed at their professional accomplishments.

After arriving in London, I realized what a truly global city it is. Anywhere you are, you will hear at least five different languages being spoken at any one time. When I began graduate school at the London School of Economics, this diversity continued in the countries represented in my class. I was introduced to a fantastic group of individuals who were all similarly passionate, but had come from over 25 different countries. Our conversations both inside and outside the classroom were stimulating, and focused on what impact we could have on cultures, economies, and policies throughout the world.

These experiences were fantastic – they exposed me to differences in thought and culture. They also took me out of my comfort zone. As a result, in each one of these experiences, I had moments where I felt utterly useless and misplaced. The people I surrounded myself with seemed to have their shit together – my best friend had a fantastic job lined up, and created fun and engaging English lessons for our students in Tanzania. My fellow colleagues at the LSE seemed to have a clear grasp on graduate studies, and interesting work experiences to speak to in seminars. In each of these experiences, I constantly compared myself to the achievements of others. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, that my accomplishments weren’t enough. This feeling began to impact my outlook on life, and ultimately my happiness.

It wasn’t a big deal to move across the world – other people do it all the time.
Graduating college was great, but nothing special.

This thinking leads to a toxic cycle of dissatisfaction. With every large and small accomplishment, I didn’t reflect on the hard work it took to get there; instead I began planning my next five steps. In this cycle, you never reach a happy, satisfied state. Your head is stuck in the sand looking for the best seashell, all the while missing the beauty of the beach.

I am thankful to have many supportive people in my life that will pull me out of the sand, and have helped me to recognize this behavior within myself. Yet I still struggle with comparing myself to others. What I have learned this year, it that this is okay. I am not perfect. I’ll have my ups and downs, but what matters is that I recognize that I am enough, that I am working on recognizing my hard work. Even writing about this constant comparison is healthy for me, as it makes me vulnerable to the opinions of other people.

It seems to me that this comparison game is nothing new – social media provides us with a constant source for comparison. Instagram shows us what our social engagements should look like, while viral LinkedIn posts boast successful, fulfilling careers. These things aren’t inherently bad. Sharing your experiences can be fun and helpful to others (hence why I am currently writing this blog). It only becomes dangerous when these posts are used as validation of personal failure. If your faults are the only thing you see from other posts, then it is time to step back and recalibrate.

The moral of the story here is that no two people are the same, and that’s okay. Just as the women I worked with in Tanzania didn’t judge our cultural differences, we must also not judge our differences we have personally or professionally with others. This isn’t an easy task – I know. But we must support each other in the pursuit of being enough. Our happiness and sanity depend on it.  

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