The Comparison Trap

The Comparison Trap
May 13, 2019 Dance Central

“Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you are better than everyone, it’s walking in not having to compare yourself to anyone at all.”

It’s petering out now, but for a little while there it seemed almost everyone around me was talking about Jacinda Ardern. After the horror of the shooting at Christchurch and the swift reply and unstinting support from her government, the comparisons started coming in. From how she measured up with our own government leaders, to her efficacy compared to other women world leaders, to pondering aloud about kickass women who are kickass “precisely because they don’t lead like men”, the news cycle, the chatter was quick to hold up the magnifying glass and scrutinise every inch. And yes, to compare.

And it got me thinking a lot about how we arrive at personal values, of how we benchmark our progress, and why we love to look to the left and to the right of us. It’s inbuilt, I’m sure of it.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

And when you look at it one way, it certainly can be and has been. Two things are likely to happen when we compare our lives to those of others. When our behind-the-scenes don’t measure up to someone else’s highlight reel, often the Green-eyed Monster and its equally soul-sucking cousin, Worry, will threaten to kick down the door. Conversely, when we look around and seem to come out on top, then smug arrogance and complacency can settle in. Either way, this sort of comparison often wars with the parts of us that want to root for someone else’s success, that celebrates the achievement and beauty of others. The calculative, competitive streak in us might start to see success as a zero-sum game. It’s not a lot of fun, really, because it’s kinda lonely.

But comparison is often also a way of taking stock and not resting on our laurels. Of checking we haven’t lost the plot. Of stirring ambition, of even startling us towards a new direction. Comparison can often result in gratitude, which in turn engages our humanity and compassion for others. It ain’t all bad. But it shouldn’t be our last stop.

Mother Teresa once said that “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” In thinking about this seeming paradox (for humility, by this definition, also sounds very much like confidence), I can’t help but marvel at how freeing it must be to just chart your own course. Comparisons will always happen, but I love that we can’t remain too distracted by them if we are captivated with purpose. And perhaps, in competing with no one else but ourselves, we’ll have all that energy and good vibes left over to cheer others along.


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