Cover image by MoralStories
Comparing yourself to others is a killer and a trap that everyone falls into all of the time. One of my favourite stories about comparison is that of the crow. It goes a little something like this:
The crow was a happy crow. It could do everything a crow can normally do including cool stuff like flying wherever it wants to go. Then one day, it comes across a dove. ‘Damn’ the crow thinks to himself, ‘that dove is so shiny and has some flawless feathers, whereas I’m all dark and dull, maybe this whole crow thing isn’t so great after all’
So, the crow flies over to the dove and says ‘Hey man, with your shiny feathers and stuff you must be the happiest bird in the world.’ The dove then explains that he was the happiest bird in the world, until he met a robin. The dove tells the crow about the time he met a robin: ‘and I was like woah, that is one awesome red chest you’ve got. I wish I had something like that rather than my plain white chest.’
So the crow flies to meet the robin. Like the dove, he is dazzled by the robin’s awesome chest and says that there is no way that the robin can’t be the happiest bird in the world right now. The robin lets off a sigh and says ‘well, my red chest is pretty cool I suppose but have you ever seen a peacock? That bird totally shits all over my red chest. Its massive feathers have eyes or at least they look like they have eyes. There is no way that peacocks aren’t the happiest birds in the world with those incredible feathers.’
So the crow flies to see the peacock and people are taking pictures of its majestic feathers. When the crowds disperse, the crow finally gets to speak to the peacock. ‘I’ve never seen feathers like yours. You have to be the happiest bird in the world with those beauties.’ The peacock lets out a sigh and says ‘well, my feathers are cool I must admit that. But I’m kept here in a cage and people take pictures of me when I’m sleeping and just trying to chill. Sometimes, I wish I was a crow and think about how amazing it would be to be able to fly freely without anyone bothering me.’
So there you have it, the crow was jealous of the dove who was jealous of the robin who was jealous of the peacock who was jealous of the crow. Full circle.
If you haven’t drawn the obvious comparison by now, let me spoil it for you: we are the crow. Pretty much all of the time.
One of Teddy Roosevelt’s most famous quotes is that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and there really is no better way of putting it. When we succumb to comparing our own achievements and shortcomings to the achievements and shortcomings of others, we inevitably come out worse.
Either we see ourselves doing ‘worse’ than someone else, like in the crow story and start spinning stories about how we could never do that or that they have a special talent that we don’t have or that they are successful and we never will be.
Or, perhaps even more toxically, we see ourselves doing ‘better’ than someone else and our ego gets a nice little stroke. We spin another story about how we are above the competition, whoever we decide our competition is, and then get a feeling of superiority. The superiority quickly transitions into anxiety and insecurity though, as we are always checking behind us to see if we are still ‘ahead’ rather than focusing on where we are going.
Comparing yourself to others on social media
I know that the horse has been beaten to death on this topic. Everyone’s gran and dog have written about the perils of social media but I simply couldn’t leave it out of a post about comparison. I’m sorry.
Despite the warnings being shouted from all corners of the world, it is still perplexingly-easy to forget just how easy it is to compare ourselves to others on social media. Everyone has experienced the ‘hate like’, where you like someone’s photo showing off their holiday or new car but secretly hate them for it.
Generally and on a personal level, social media is simply very curated content to capture all of the highlights and best parts of someone’s life. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that we often fall into the trap of believing that these highlights are pretty much daily occurrences. That everything is going swimmingly in everyone else’s life, when it really isn’t.
I was catching up with a friend last week who is one of the most fun and excitable friends that I have. We don’t live in the same city any more, so most of what I see of him is via social media. Everything looked great projected out from my end, but then he told me had been seeing a therapist for a while for his mental health. Of course, that isn’t something that you want to project out on social media but I had one of those ‘oh shit’ moments where I had no idea what was going on behind closed doors, away from the extravaganza of Instagram stories.
The real comparison
Forget what your friends are doing on Facebook, forget what your mentor has already achieved and what their next project is, forget what someone your age has already achieved, there is only one comparison to be made.
Are you better, or at least trying to be better, than the person you were yesterday? That is the only real comparison that needs to be made because then you can be sure that you are moving in the right direction.
Comparing ourselves to others is so easy to do because it is all that we have ever known. Where are the others? How do I measure up to them? Am I up or down? What are people like me doing? Whether its school or university or in your job or your industry or in your neighbourhood, you can choose to stop asking these questions and stop drawing unnecessary comparisons.
Instead, it is worth asking: am I moving forward (no matter how slow)? If the answer is yes, then you are already winning the real game.
We can be busy brooding about how great the robin or dove or peacock is, or we can realise that we have our own wings for flying.