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.