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To Hell With Comparison

“We have so far to go” sighed the boy
“Yes, but look at how far we’ve come.” said the horse
– Charlie Mackesy
, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

I listened to an associate talk of stocks purchased and his regret that he only made $300K on his Moderna but would have made a million if he’d stuck with it. He’d already made millions selling his business, and talked of starting another business to build and sell. He’s a hustler, a builder, a big shark in a red ocean always hungry for more. And a charming guy who quickly wins people over with his personality and work ethic.

Another friend who worked for this friend learned all he could from the big shark and started his own company. He’s built it up to be substantial. There’s no doubt that he’s a big shark himself now, and he talks exactly like the first guy. Rattles off accomplishments in every conversation, big wins, and a trophy house on a famous lake. Also a hustler, he’s built something special but isn’t slowing down. No, he’s got an empire to build and the climb isn’t over.

You can quickly feel inadequate when you talk to someone who leapfrogs the average. These two make me dizzy when I talk to them, and there’s plenty more just like them who will rattle off wins like entrees on a Cheesecake Factory menu. I can’t help but admire them, and compliment each accomplishment for what it is. And there’s a little bit of comparison that slips in right about then where I think about what I’ve done in the industry versus what they’ve done, and… I silently curse myself for not being a bigger shark.

“Comparison is the primary sin of modern life.” – Michael Ray“

When you try to keep up with the Joneses you willingly enter into an arms race you can’t win. But the tendency to compare runs deep. And I thought about my two friends. They talk often, and I wonder about their conversations. I did this! Well, I did this! And so on until their next client calls with a billion dollar deal just in time for the holidays. And I shake my head. I don’t want to swim in that ocean.

“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain

When you live your life based on how you perceive yourself to be in relation to someone else you can never measure up. And you set yourself up for a life of frustration and exhaustive one-upmanship. And yet most of us do it anyway. Worse, we start looking at what our children have accomplished compared to the neighbors kids and seed our issues right in to the next generation.

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” – Lily Tomlin

You can’t help but think about how far you have to go when you start comparing yourself to others. But it helps to look back and recognize just how far you’ve come. Often the best views are well before we reach the summit. We’re all on our own path, and it might just look pretty good to someone else. Shouldn’t we recognize that ourselves and appreciate where we are?

And still comparison persists. Comparison can be a spur or a cancer. It serves to fuel progress, inspire action, alter our course and generally goad us out of complacency. Comparison isn’t all bad. Until you use it to degrade yourself or those you love, or to win at any cost. In those moments, to hell with comparison. Isn’t it better to be George Bailey than Mr. Potter?

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  1. As you say, comparison to inspire need not be destructive. Just because you didn’t think first of that wonderful thing, doesn’t make it not worth doing! Or at least for you to be proud of trying! Leverage it to set your own unique goals and spawn new ideas to call your own, while you sit satisfied at reaching your own solitary (or maybe sharing with a special partner) those special accomplishments. 🙂

    1. Comparison has merit when applied wisely. But ultimately our comparison should be with our former selves less so others.

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