Inside: Comparison tells you that you’re not good enough. The way you are is bad. It’s destructive and soul-destroying. And it is a liar.
Comparison is at the root of much of our discomfort, distraction, and dissatisfaction. It pulls us out of being present to our lives and into our heads, worrying about what others are up to, what they might think of us, how we wish life was or how we think it ought to be. It leaves us feeling lacking, like we’re missing out, or perpetually behind.
Comparison is disempowering and dries up all the energy, passion, and curiosity we could otherwise expend in showing up fully to the imperfect and beautiful life in front of us – in walking out our values, pursuing our highest priorities, tending to ourselves with compassion, or showing up for the people or causes we care most about.
If we’re not awake to all the sneaky ways comparison threads itself into our heart and thoughts about who we are, our strengths and purpose and value, it holds us back from saying YES to life, from diving in wholeheartedly, or keeps us stuck in surviving but not truly thriving. I want to thrive in every new season.
“Downward comparison” in theory can make us feel better about ourselves but more often what I see is that comparison is driven by and amplifies a sense of unworthiness or not being good enough. More often than not it tears us down.
And while for some people this might simply add to a general sense of dissatisfaction with life, hiding, or low self-worth, in some cases, pervasive feelings of being unworthy and not good enough can be incredibly destructive and soul-destroying and contribute to leading people down a path of self-loathing, hopelessness, and even suicide.
(The one instance when I notice comparison being helpful is when it acknowledges all the good or privilege in our lives and leads to gratitude, compassion, and positive action.)
Comparison is an act of violence against the self.—Iyanla Vanzant
The goal is not to avoid ever tipping again into comparison (we are human and we will compare and judge, though if negative thoughts are taking over your life please seek support) but to become quick to see it at play in our lives so we can then choose a mindful, values-aligned response and not allow it to run amok unchallenged.
I write about perfectionism, comparison and fear because they tend to come tangled up with each other, and because they have served as significant stumbling blocks and learning opportunities on my personal journey to greater freedom, purpose, health, and joy.
Interestingly though, my readers and clients don’t always immediately identify with comparison or perfectionism as key players in their lives. They don’t always connect their symptoms – of low self-worth, procrastination, fear of taking risks, people-pleasing, a mean inner critic or lots of self-judgement, even sometimes social anxiety, for example, with the underlying roots. Part of my work is to help my community connect these dots.
This is such a big topic and I’ve offered resources below to help you learn more and do some work to find greater freedom in this area of your life. But as a tiny light of encouragement, I want to share some truths about life or myself that I only discovered when I learned to quiet the noise of comparison in my life. You might see yourself reflected in one or some of them.
Comparison kills creativity and joy.—Brené Brown
What I Learned About Life & Self When I Quieted the Voice of Comparison in My Life
I am already good enough and have nothing to prove. I’m messy and struggle and feel deeply and also I’m gifted and loveable and I love who I am right now even though I say yes to growth and more fully becoming who and how I want to be.
I can celebrate you and your unique wiring, respect and admire you, even feel a little envious at times of who and how you are, and also not need to be like you.
I found the energy to build a business this past (almost) 5 years because I was no longer using it all up trying to order my life “perfectly” or feeling like I never measured up. I found the courage to start writing because I realized I didn’t have to be a great writer, I could simply offer what I had to give.
I found my voice when I decided I care more about loving myself well and honouring my boundaries and my values, than about what other people might think of me or gaining their approval. I also feel more able to learn from others and less reactive because my self-worth is not attached to feeling like I should already know it all or to never making a mistake. This is very freeing.
I love my imperfect body. I release shame and judgment and comparing myself to an arbitrary standard of beauty and focus instead on tending to my mind-body-health and loving the body I’m in.
I show up differently – with more peace – to my relationships. Because I’m rooted and not scrambling to find my worth outside of myself, I am able to listen better, hold space with a bit more skill, and maintain a sense of humour about how we all try to get our needs met in this world. We’re all rather messy.
I’m a strongly introverted, highly sensitive human, and from a young age struggled with anxiety and suicidality. I am not broken or wrong or defective – I am on purpose, gifted, and needed. The way I’m knit together allows me to see what others might miss, to advocate for justice or positive change, and to live with deep compassion for other imperfect and beautiful humans finding their way in this messy world.
I love my work and the greatest strengths I bring to it are the very characteristics I used to judge and wish away.
Quiet the Noise of Comparison in Your Life
I share 6 questions you can use to notice where and how comparison shows up for you and how to quiet that noise so you can live fully present and meaningfully engaged in your life, focused on walking out your values and priorities. In the video, I break each question down and offer examples to help you apply them to your unique circumstances.
- Who am I and what do I truly want or need?
- What does “enough” look, sound, feel like for me in this season of life?
- Where do I have a leaky boundary?
- What story am I listening to?
- How am I outsourcing my well-being, happiness, or purpose in life?
- How can I take imperfect action toward what I say I want or need?
Further Reading about comparison