We’ve all done it. Walked out of a presentation or a meeting or a group brainstorm and thought “I couldn’t have done that like she did.”
And before you say, “great, another blog post telling me to just. stop. comparing. myself.” Please hear me out because girl, I’ve been there, too! Seeking, searching, feeling constantly exhausted from trying, and wondering ‘is this what success is supposed to feel like?’
As the first-born daughter of seven kids, a sorority council member with a full-time job and pretty unbalanced social life in college, and – for a short while most recently – the sole earner in my household while my husband looked for work, I was constantly looking for external validation that I was doing well enough. This made me an exemplary daughter and a dependable employee, but not the best functioning human in the real world because someone else was always doing it better.
I was terrified to expose my flaws or admit my inexperience or even own up to what I actually had accomplished when surrounded or confronted by other confident and experienced career women.
But here’s what I’m learning: it is our imperfections and shortcomings that make us so perfect for one another! Each of us is gifted and designed differently and uniquely to excel in some areas and to seek assistance in others.
For all we’re told and taught about how we shouldn’t compare ourselves, I disagree that comparison is inherently a bad thing.
Comparison is not the thief of joy; unhealthy comparison is.
Healthy Vs Unhealthy ComparisonOnce you begin down the road of career comparison it can be so hard to know where that road will end, when you should turn back, when you need to take a break, and when you need to reassess.
As we grow up, we’re designed and taught to take our social cues from other people in our lives; we seek validation from our friends, family, classmates, coworkers, bosses - even rivals! But how often have you truly analyzed your own responses and thoughts to these situations and people?
Think of the most recent instance that you found yourself comparing yourself, your project, or your career to someone else and came up short. Now think of how you responded to that event or circumstance and consider these questions:
Which side of the table are you on most often?
The Healthy Comparison Starter PackThere are an infinite number of work situations in which you may find yourself comparing your identity and achievements to others’ – someone more experienced, someone who earned that promotion you wanted, someone who had the bravery to start their own company.
Equip yourself with these 4 Tools to keep your comparison on the healthy side of the table!
1. Expel the Head Trash
Talk back to those negative thoughts that have you questioning your worth and value and replace them with positive facts about yourself and your situation. Michaela Alexis, LinkedIn Keynote Speaker & Author, calls these thoughts “bullying beliefs” that will keep you from reaching your full potential. Bullying beliefs = negative thoughts = head trash. Get rid of it.
2. Practice Positive Replacement Thoughts
This is the theory behind cognitive behavioral theory (CBT) – and no, I’m not saying you need therapy – though sometimes a good vent session with some close girlfriends over coffee is as good as therapy! I am saying that there is some science behind the effect that our own words have on our mental and emotional state. Remind yourself that you are uniquely equipped and deserving. Instead of fixating on what went wrong with that recent pitch, try recalling what went right: My presentation went well despite that little technology hiccup, the potential client really liked how our team handled that snafu, and I 100% chose the right jacket to wear to work today because I felt like a QUEEN.
3. Get Yourself an Amazing Mentor & Meet Regularly
A good mentor will inspire and stretch you. Find a woman (or man!) that you identify with who can both challenge and support you while you navigate your career. The Sassy Club is a great place to start. Also, consider your college or sorority alumni network or a local young professionals group.
4. Connect with An Encouraging Peer Group
It can be made of up women in your industry, or women of a similar age in a mix of industries, or even just connecting with people with the same interest or hobby as you. Use your peer group to find inspiration without negative comparison. Don’t turn everyone into your competition! Instead of asking "why can't I be like her?" or thinking "I'll never be on her level," ask yourself "what could I learn from her?" and remind yourself of those things which make you special, skilled, and important. Ask questions of the people you admire, and surround yourself with others and an environment that have a positive impact on you mentally and emotionally.
Scenes from the Real World
Missed Promotion“I have a rockstar mentor that has been telling me since day one that “comparison is the thief of all joy.’’ I know it is a super common quote but it hit home and I try to remind myself of it daily!
Public accounting can be very competitive in certain ways and not in others. For those who jump into it straight out of school, you typically start with a group of people your same age. For the first few years, everyone usually gets very similar pay increases as well as promotions at the same time. However, after being a few years in, everyone starts to separate out. We just had a round of promotions and all of the boys in our start class got promoted but one other girl and I did not. I didn’t realize how competitive I was until this happened!
My immediate reaction was shock. I didn’t think it was fair. I felt undervalued. I wanted to quit.
But after discussing this with my manager, the one who told me the quote, I remembered that before I had known about the other promotions, I was very happy with my raise and bonus. I also was very happy with where I was at in the company.
I let others’ successes hinder my happiness. Which was not okay!!”
~ Molly, 27
Career Change“One thing I've realized this year, with the help of a few of the awesome panels USKC [Underground Social KC] has put together, is that so many of us are so worried about feeling like we've "arrived." I'm considering a career change at 26...it's completely normal to not know what you want to do with your life at 18, 25, 30, even 40. Surrounding myself with uplifting women has helped me SO much on this journey!”
~ Meggie, 26
A Healthy Perspective“When it comes to comparison, I recommend translating your negative thoughts into positive action. Identify opportunities for self-improvement, set (reasonable!) goals, surround yourself with people you admire and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether it’s a friend, coworker, mentor or family member, we can learn so much from those around us.”
~ Paige, 26
No One Else Can Determine Your Worth
Never forget that comparison – both healthy and unhealthy – puts the focus on the wrong person! Be authentic to yourself, your development, your timeline, and your story. Ditch the self-doubt and anxiety that stems from unhealthy comparison. Encourage and inspire your sisters. And, as always, stay sassy!
Originally written for The Sassy Club