Comparison tempts at the most inopportune times. For example, when you’re launching a big project or trying something new and risky. When you’re meeting new friends and desire to fit in. Rather than feeling a boost of confidence, you glimpse someone else doing it bigger and better. In minutes, you slide from “on top of the world” to “bottom of the pile.” Feelings of insignificance and failure overwhelm.
Several weeks ago, a frustrated friend asked my advice in such a scenario. In the middle of a big product launch, she stumbled upon someone else launching a similar product at the same time. The only problem: She wasn’t experiencing nearly as much success.
Enter Comparison. A thief with terrible timing.
Ironically, I’d recently crawled out of a similar pit. Unlike her, however, I couldn’t pinpoint any particular reason “why.” The truth is it had been a good season in many ways, reminding me that comparison feelings aren’t always cause-and-effect. Sometimes they simply are. Either way, the experience felt crushing.
Regardless of its source, the Comparison Game can sneak up and attack without any notice. Lack of sleep, a full schedule, a small cold or an unrelated crisis can all push us to a place where we feel like we’re not “enough.” Discouraged, we start searching out proof that what we’re feeling is accurate, usually subconsciously.
Suddenly, everyone around us is more successful, more talented, more gifted, more this and more that than we are.
As the evidence gathers, the pit gets deeper, and you and I fall oh-so-easily into it.
Recently, I’ve started paying more attention to it, noticing the triggers, onset and the steep-and-fast-slide. As a result, I’ve gathered up a plan for shutting down the game before it even begins.
So, how do we get to a place where we can be at peace with our calling while celebrating someone else’s, even when it’s similar? The feeling is real and valid. But we don’t have to let it rule. Like the game Shoots And Ladders, think of it as the intentional rungs of a ladder to keep you from tripping into a slide:
- Validate the feeling. Feelings of insignificance are not “bad” or “wrong.” They’re merely a human, physical response to our God-given desire to know our lives matter and make a difference. When we see someone who is doing that with more obvious results than we’re getting, our human instinct is to measure and compare. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmed. Whatever the feeling, name it, honor it. But don’t let it own you.
- Maintain perspective. It’s a big, big world out there. Each person must do their part. Just as an orchestra would be grossly incomplete with only oboes, our world is incomplete if you don’t bring your unique instrument to it. Show up. Bring your true self every single day, in every situation. Life is not a zero sum game. Another’s value and purpose does nothing to diminish your own.
- Regularly celebrate others. Go out of your way to applaud, cheer and encourage others. At times this will be more an obedience than an overflow of warm feelings. Do it anyway. The moment you feel a twinge jealousy or insignificance, acknowledge it as a cue to applaud someone else. It’s a strong step away from the slide and toward security.
- Spend your energy on your calling. Comparison takes a lot of time and energy for terrible results. Instead, channel your efforts toward doing what you were made to do. Your job is to respond to Jesus’ voice to you, to use the gifts and opportunities you’ve been given. No more, no less. That’s energy well spent.
Proverbs 4:25-26 says it this way:
“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.”
Feelings of failure are fueled by distraction, by looking to the right and left and taking stock of what everyone else is doing. But we’re not called to do what everyone else is doing. I’m called to live MY life. And you’re called to live YOURS. To the best of our abilities.
When Peter was walking with Jesus after the Resurrection, he got distracted. John was following them, and rather than marveling in the fact that he was hanging out with his resurrected Savior (!), he started comparing:
“When Peter saw [John], he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'” (John 21:22)
In other words, John is not your business. I am.
Eyes straight ahead, friends. Fix your gaze on the I AM. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet. And be steadfast.
How timely this message is for me. THANK YOU! As I am preparing my heart and mind for Leverage Alumni Mastermind group I know I must spend my energy on my calling and not get caught in the trap of comparison!! What important truths to keep close to my heart right now.
Thank you again,
So hard to do when surrounded by talented and dynamic people doing what you also love to do. I’m with you, friend.
What an awesome opportunity to learn and listen, rather than compare. When that is the environment, the whole room shifts to a different focus.
Maybe my problem is mostly “maintaining perspective.” I spent a few years right before my second brain surgery building a platform through social media and all along I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t what the Lord wanted from me. When I had to have a second brain surgery, I had to very suddenly let it all go. Sometimes, (not often) I see what others are able to accomplish and want to jump in the game again…but I just don’t have the energy, and mostly don’t have the desire. I know it’s not God’s will for me. Mostly, I am able to celebrate others’ purpose, and how God is using them to reach others. I have my own part to play, and once in awhile, God gives me a pretty big glimpse of it. All I really care about is what He will say to me when I meet Him face to face.
Linda, since you have decided that it’s not God’s will for you, I’d suggest not looking at it as “I had to … let it all go.” Instead, what you have is a very positive revelation (God’s will for you) and you can say, “I was able to get that distraction off my path.”
I look forward to hearing you “play your oboe” in God’s plan for you.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
My friend, you absolutely do have the gift of encouragement. Whether you are speaking, writing, podcasting … you’re such an encourager. I thank God for that.
An excellent article. So many people shut off social media to take a break from the Comparison Game.
But you said it perfectly, be uniquely you, no one else can do that, and there is no point in being a copy of someone else!
I love the idea of stepping in and admiring another when you get a twinge of jealousy – rather than mentally faulting, verbally praise and build one another.
Whoa I needed this today. THANK YOU! I am feeling very threatened and insecure in my marriage for some reason the last few days, and I need to focus on Him, and TRUST. The devil is working over time in my head, and I can’t allow it!