The Comparison Conundrum

The comparison conundrum.

We’re all in the midst of it—whether we realize it or not.

Almost every facet of our lives is based in comparison to others. Think about it. If differentiation is the key to professional success, the only way to accomplish it is to compare everything about yourself to others.

Your education. Skills and talents. Your physical appearance. Mastery of language. Analytical skills. How you present. How you show up. How you command a conversation or shift the attention. The questions you ask, the answers you provide. The list is endless. It’s nearly impossible to escape the comparison conundrum.

What we wear. What we drive. Where we live. How we entertain. Where we vacation. What others do and like absolutely instructs what we do and like.

I never said it was all bad. I just said it was ever-present.

So then what?

How do you make sense of living in a vortex of comparison? When does it go too far?

I’m subject to it just like you. I think a key to recognizing when it’s sucking you under is being aware when you’re making decisions based on another’s approval and not based on your own. On someone else’s values and not your own.

I freely admit there are people in my life that I want to impress.

I want them to know I am a hard worker. That I am smart. That I have skills. That I can monetize those skills.

I might be tempted to say it’s an issue rooted in capitalism but every trip to China or Denmark dispels that theory. Asia is indisputably the largest luxury goods market in the world. Humans care what other humans think about them. Sometimes too much.

I have a very close friend. I’d count him in my top ten friends. He’s fun, insanely well educated, hardworking, wildly professionally successful. A great dad and husband. He’s in great shape and indisputably handsome. He’s the life of every party, mostly because he hosts the best parties. He has rental properties. A stunning home. An even more stunning vacation home. He not only has every possible toy but multiple of each. Want to ride a snowmobile? He has eight. Want to go four-wheeling? Not an issue – he has eight. Beer on tap as you play pool and watch Hamilton on the largest screen in history? Come on over, but don’t be too distracted by the smell of organic, prime filet coming from the most elaborate home grill you’ve ever seen.

When he comes to your home for dinner, he brings not a housewarming gift but Christmas-level gifts. Nothing is small and everything is chosen with others in mind. He’s really quite selfless when you look past the flash and awe. He’s also the hardest working guy I know and deserves all of his success.

But I’m completely emasculated by him.

It’s impossible for me to feel smart or successful around him. And oddly not because of him or anything he does, but because of me. Despite the previous description of him, he doesn’t flaunt any of his success or wealth. He’s one of the most abundant and generous people I’ve ever met. He’s always genuinely complimentary of me and even calls me for advice on occasion. He’s the kind of guy I’d go to if I ever needed advice or a lockbox to share something bothering me. He’s really a likable guy—completely independent of his self-created surroundings.

But still, I am always stuck in the comparison conundrum with him. I can’t compete and I’ve got to stop trying.

Now some of you reading this feel sorry for me. Pity likely, that I am 52 and I’m trying to compete with another man, ten years my younger. You are saddened by my hollow life and jealousy.

Others of you see yourself squarely in my life. You can relate to how easy it is to be jealous and envious of someone else’s success and material possessions. You can absolutely relate to the comparison conundrum I’m describing.

I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing. This friend actually motivates me. I enjoy spending time with him and learn a lot from his decisions. I am better for knowing him.  I just need to immerse myself in gratitude when I’m around him. Be confident and comfortable in my success, my home, my car, my relationships, my reputation, my legacy. And demonstrate genuine joy for his.

Trust me, I try. It’s tough I tell you. But what makes it easier for me is reconnecting to gratitude for what I have and not what I don’t. Easier said than done I know.

Stay connected to your values and resist living your life in comparison to others’.


80% of your results will come from 20% of your activities—are you focusing on the right ones? Download The 80/20 Activity Analyzer tool to be more strategic in your process and more successful in your results.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Release, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. Previously, Scott worked for the Disney Development Company and grew up in Central Florida. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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