Improve confidence and stop comparing yourself to others

I have to make a confession…

I’m a jealous person. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true–when I can find a person who seems, in every way, better than me, I make my life very difficult. While you may congratulate others for their accomplishments, I wonder how they somehow did something I couldn’t. And once you start comparing yourself to others, it’s hard to stop.

I went too far when I turned someone I looked up to into a perfect persona. I’ll call him Jon. He is, in part, someone who I aspire to be. He has a great family, lots of money, and a wealth of knowledge…

but that’s the problem…Jon knows everything. Whenever his name comes up, inevitably along with some newfangled achievement or success story, I can’t help but think that I’ll never know so much, I’ll never have so much money, I’ll never be so successful.

And to make matters worse, I’m constantly being compared to him.

Comparing myself to a god

For a little while, Jon was someone I could look up to, he was an inspiration in my sometimes directionless life.

Then I started looking at him differently. A new idea popped into my head…since we’re so similar, if Jon can do something, surely I should be able to it as well.

So, suddenly, I’m supposed to be an entrepreneur with a seven figure income, hundreds of top notch connections, and the prowess to assume any executive role without skipping a beat.

And these comparisons happened again…and again…and again. Soon Jon wasn’t Jon anymore. He was a flawless persona I had unconsciously created.

A couple of months ago, after many hours lost, I decided to bury the hatchet. I’m not Jon; Jon’s not me. We’re not family nor friends. In fact, we really know very little about each other (Plus, he’s about 30 years older than me).

All that time I spent thinking about God Jon didn’t help anybody. And it hurt a lot.

All humans are mere mortals

But once you create a god, it’s hard to bring it down.

I had to constantly remind myself that the Jon I knew wasn’t Jon at all. His years of education, opportunity, and experience dwarfed mine.

In essence, I was comparing a mammoth 500 pound, fully grown tiger–packing razor sharp K9s and battle scars–to its cub (not that the cub isn’t cute and all, but boy does it have a lot to learn).

Comparing Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (side by side)
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates by Joi Ito, CC BY 2.0

Our own comparisons

The most destructive comparisons that we make look something like this: (person I admire/envy) + (trait A) vs. (my trait A–which is clearly unremarkable in comparison or I wouldn’t admire them in the first place) conclusion: that person is better than me in every respect.

Trait A is a distractor.

John Cena can take down Bill Gates but does that make him smarter? Of course not! Unfortunately, as soon as we make the initial comparison we forget all else.

And once we start, we don’t stop. We make them gods: siblings, peers, parents, athletes, and celebrities alike. Trust me…they’re far from it. Being especially skilled in one area by no means makes you skilled in all areas, but for some reason, we only focus on the very specific areas of strength. That’s what creates an unfair comparison.

How to develop confidence

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Helen Keller

Now I’m not endorsing ego-maniacs here but I do have to point out one positive–although one sided–aspect of the personality trait: comparisons never hurt them. If you love yourself, it makes it much harder for others to hurt you.

Self confidence is like a shell, protecting you from obsessing over small, uncontrollable details in your life.

To develop confidence:

  • Realize your own value
  • Focus on the positive
  • Don’t create “gods” – perfect personas that only serve to put you down

(Here are some more ideas)

You have traits that no one else has. Everyone in this world can do something–whether large or small–better than someone else.

Maybe you’re a great writer or a natural artist. Maybe you can read like the wind or add 23,415 and 7,892 faster than I can even type them out (it’s 31,307 by the way). Maybe you have a knack for woodworking, computers, or can play the saxophone like nobody’s business. Maybe your ideas are gold or you’re a champ at creating conversation. Maybe you’re a listener or maybe you’re a thinker.

But whoever you are, you add value to the world.

Try this

If you’re struggling to find confidence, take out a sheet of paper (right now) and write down 5 strengths you have (that you are proud of). (or, if you can’t find any, just type in the url bar at the top of your screen)

Seriously, it’ll take like one minute.

Got it. Good! (If you’re into it, share them in the comments below)

Here are mine:

  • I am great at jazz drumset
  • I have stellar handwriting
  • I love to cook (and I’m good at it)
  • I am a teacher
  • I am motivated and hardworking

It’s a bit pretentious but hopefully, you can see now that, just like the people you’re comparing yourself to, you have great strengths too.

light up DNA wall
DNA by MIKI Yoshihito, CC BY 2.0

It’s in the genes

We compare ourselves to people who we cannot possibly become.

Natural talent, natural looks, natural intelligence–traits held at birth by some–shouldn’t ever harm your self image. But, then again, how can they not?

“Oh, no”, you may think. “If I work hard enough”, you say.

Look. Just face it. It’s in the genes. There are simply some people in the world who are born lucky.

But realizing that those people exist shouldn’t for an instant change your ambitions. Comparing yourself to super-talented individuals is no excuse for sloppy work. If anything, it should motivate you to work harder.

One thing many people don’t realize: the key to ‘talent’ is work. Sure, people are born to be smarter but their determination and hard work propel them to become who they are.

And anyone can work hard.

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

Vince Lombardi

Comparisons are not fair

You never know what you can do in 30, 40, or even 50 years. Consider the change you’ve undergone in just the last 4 and you’ll realize that you can really become anyone if you work hard enough.

But when we compare, we never take age into account, we never take talent into account, we never take hundreds of hours of hard work into account. We pit quality against quality. We never win.

“The most common flaw in our comparisons is that they are entirely unfair.”

We do the same thing when we compare ourselves to our peers. We culminate the strengths of all of our friends into one person, and suddenly, all of our friends are that person–with the talent, strength, and knowledge of 15 separate people.

One person can’t beat 15 people.

So why do we even do it?

As a society, we are raised comparing ourselves…first in hierarchy–from parents who make it clear they are on top–then everywhere else. As we grow, our number one goal becomes finding our place in society. And what’s the best way to do that? By comparing ourselves to others until we inevitably find where we believe we fit.

After years of comparisons–we can’t stop. Seeking popularity, money, intelligence, we start to make comparisons we ought to be avoiding. We wonder why others are hotter than us, why they are smarter than us, why they have more friends than us, why they seem so happy and us so sad.

We begin to crave these comparisons just like we crave food. And too many alway hurt us.

The comparisons we make are like Oreos. Delicious…but terrible for us. And we know it! We know we should stop but we just keep shoving cookie after cookie into our fat mouths…we just can’t stop.

Harvard campus
Harvard by angela n., CC BY 2.0

Can we stop comparisons?

We live to compare. We love to compare. And It doesn’t seem likely that we will stop anytime soon.

However, we can certainly quell the anger and sadness that follow comparisons. Just remember these two things:

  1. You are not alone, we all do this!
  2. Comparisons are rarely fair. (read this)

When some of my friends were accepted to ivy league schools I felt pretty bad. Suddenly they were smarter, more motivated, harder working, and destined to have a better future (of course none of these things are actually true, just what I was thinking at the time).

But one of my best friends summed it up perfectly. When I told him how I felt, he smiled, laughed a little, and he said, “Sam, you just can’t make those comparisons!” He repeated it over and over again until I finally gave in.

It may sound stupid, but it couldn’t be truer.

You can’t change who you are and you certainly can’t change the past. So don’t dwell on it. If you weren’t accepted to Stanford or Harvard, if you weren’t chosen to play varsity, if you weren’t given a $100,000 scholarship, if you weren’t class valedictorian, it doesn’t matter.

You are who you are. Your friends are who they are–and so are your parents, your teachers, your role models, your favorite actors and celebrities.

They are who they are–not better nor worse, just different.

Everyone has strengths, everyone has weaknesses. Each of your weaknesses is another’s strengths. Each of your strengths is another’s weakness. That doesn’t make anyone “better” and it doesn’t make anyone “worse”. It only makes us who we are.

How do you avoid comparisons?

Did I miss anything? Do you know a great way to boost self confidence or stop comparing yourself to others? Please share in the comments below.