How often do we compare ourselves with others? Why do you we get down on ourselves when someone is better than us at something? This weeks episode is about comparison, and how to get past the need to compare ourselves with others, and change the inner critic.
In Episode 146, Fear is the Killer I touched briefly on how one of the biggest fears in life is the fear of judgment. And while I was mostly referring to the judgments of others, in this episode I want to talk about self-judgment and comparing ourselves to others.
For most of us, the person that judges us most harshly is ourselves. When we want to try something that is outside our comfort zone, that voice in our head may tell us that it’s a bad idea or that we’re stupid for even trying. Why is that? Why would sabotage ourselves? I think it’s because our brain’s job is not to help support us in our growth, but to keep us alive. And because so much of our society has been based upon our station in life and being better than others, we equate not being as good at something as someone else as something that might cause us harm. And that fear can stop is from accomplishing so many great things.
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”
— Seneca, Letters From a Stoic
When I started this podcast, I was often worried that people would think I was an imposter. I thought that if I put out a podcast about stoicism that others might put me down for it because of my lack of credentials. My wise partner reminded me that if all I’m doing is talking about how these things impact me and what I learn from it, then there was no expertise needed beyond my own experience. Thankfully, I listened to her and here we are 148 episodes later, and thankfully, you have supported me and listened to my podcast each week.
What I had to do was to be better about what I defined as success and not compare myself against others. I mean, if I was worried about trying to be as successful as Tim Ferriss and be upset that I’m never going to hit 300 million downloads, then I would never be successful. So I learned to be happy with what I have – a podcast that I can feel proud of, where I’m improving every week and I’m learning and growing each week, and I’m connecting with more and more people each week.
I know one impact of being so self-critical for me was that because I didn’t think I was all that great of a person, I would try to talk myself up to other people. Because of that insecurity, I would tell all these stories about how great I was, because I really wanted them to like me. Deep down inside, I felt like if I were just good enough at all of these things, I would be worthy of their love.
So how do we move past comparing ourselves with others?
I think the first step is finding ways to look at the success of others is not a judgment on us. The world is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone else is successful, doesn’t mean we lose. Contrary to what others try to make us think, the world isn’t made that way. We need to celebrate the success of others. We need to let go of the striving and the posturing, and the ego that makes us think that if someone is doing better than us then we’re doing worse.
William Irvine, the author of A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy says that we should be okay with our mistakes, and learn to give out praise for the admirable traits we see in other people. He says, “You may be extremely reluctant to do that, because in some way, they’re your competitors, but sometimes people do things that are worthy of praise, and to openly praise them in a certain culture is an act of courage because you’re admitting that they’re outplaying you in some way.”
When you can be honest about someone else’s success, then it makes it easier, to be honest with yourself. When you can remove your ego from the equation and be honest about your own skill, you can look at it as simply a measure of skill, not a judgment of whether you’re a good or bad person.
The next big step, which is still a hard one for me, is to remember the only person that you should be comparing yourself to is yourself.
“Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”
― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
I love that part – be the best possible version of ourselves. We need to define our own version of success that is not dependent on things outside of our control. You can’t control how good someone else is going to be at something, and when you compare yourselves with them, you are tying your success to something we can’t control. You can only control yourself and your own skill, so the only real measure should be, are you improving. And remember, failing can be improving as long as you are learning.
Lastly, we need to have self-compassion. When you screw up, don’t look at it as a failure of character, look at it as being a fallible imperfect human. Your skill at something doesn’t make you more or less worthy of love.
Be good to yourself. Be good to others.