In middle school, one of my classmates and I did this thing where we would shout at each other, “What grade did you get?” across the room, then feel either the elation of victory or the shame of defeat, depending on the other’s answers.
In high school, I compared my writing to that of one of my best friends.
In college, I compared my relationship status to that of my roommate.
Now, I compare my post-grad lifestyle with that of everyone who’s ever graduated from college — you’re 15 years out, have a full-time job, a husband and two babies? You’re beating me. No, it doesn’t matter that you’ve had 14 extra years to get to where you are. I should be there, too.
That’s my problem when I compare myself with others. It doesn’t even have to be on an even playing field; in fact, it’s almost better if it’s not.
I will happily pit myself against you in any field, and come up wanting almost every time.
My favorite person to compare my writing success to is my best friend; she’s an actress. I love to compare my publication history with someone who’s been freelancing for twelve years; I compare my apartment to that of someone making $30,000/year more than I can dream of.
I will happily pit myself against you in any field, and come up wanting almost every time. And somehow, this brings me pleasure?
Well, not pleasure in the real sense of the word. It brings me pleasure in the same way that Facebook-stalking my old crush’s new girlfriend brings me pleasure; in the same way that inflicting pain upon my body brings me pleasure; in the same way that reminding myself constantly of how unlovable I am brings me pleasure.
It brings me pleasure in a masochistic way, and it forces me to come to terms with something I don’t want to admit to (or about) myself: I am a masochist.
Not just in the traditional, physical sense (although, I am in that sense, as well). I’m an emotional masochist, someone who seeks out ways to make my heart ache and then sits back and watches it happen.
One of the biggest ways I hurt myself emotionally is by weighing myself against others.
One of the biggest ways I hurt myself emotionally is by weighing myself against others. I’ve been doing it for years, and I don’t know how to stop. I don’t have insight or wisdom to offer you in how to get over the comparison plague.
I can only say that I’m there with you; that I, too, have this tendency to calculate my worth based on others.
And I can also say that this is hurtful and harmful and a terrible way to live life.
And — let’s work to stop it. Let’s try and get over this.
I think there are things we can do to get ourselves out of the comparison rut, and I’m not talking about praying and spending time with God, while that may be the given, the least we can do.
Though, another thing we can do is to be honest and reach out to others.
If you’re comparing yourself to, say, that woman in your office who’s been in the business for 20 years and whoops your butt every time, go to her. Ask her to mentor you. Ask her to impart her wisdom on you because you admire her and want to reach her level. She might say no. But she might take you under her wing and help you get better.
If you’re comparing yourself to your best friend who has a steady stream of men wanting to take her out while you do not — be honest. I wonder if, after you tell her your thoughts, she will explain that has been jealous of you, you whose heart isn’t broken easily and who doesn’t always fall for the wrong man.
Maybe you’re comparing yourself to your sibling (Hey, Josh). Be honest. Tell your brother or sister how you think they’re better than you, more loved than you, favored. Most likely, they feel the same way about you.
I’m learning that my comparison might be a unique expression of my masochism (something I need to work on so I don’t self-destruct), but it’s not unique to me.
What I’m saying is — everyone compares. That’s what I’m learning. I’m learning that my comparison might be a unique expression of my masochism (something I need to work on so I don’t self-destruct), but it’s not unique to me.
We all look inside and find ourselves wanting, stack ourselves up against someone else and discover that they’re winning. And if we would just be honest, just be open and vulnerable, we might find that we’re not alone in this.
Now, it’s possible that you’ll tell someone you feel inferior and they’ll agree, say you are, indeed, inferior. Mostly, that just means that they’re insecure. And they’re comparing themselves to you.
We’re all in the same ocean, paddling along on our driftwood and envying our neighbors in their yachts.
I know I’ve talked before about how important vulnerability is, and I want to repeat that. It’s important in every aspect of life. Especially when it comes to comparison. We’re all in the same ocean, paddling along on our driftwood and envying our neighbors in their yachts. If we get close enough, though, we might see that they think their yacht is a more rickety piece of driftwood than yours. And maybe you can put them together and build a yacht!
OK, maybe I got carried away with that metaphor there. Guys, we can’t survive and thrive on our own. We have to reach out to others, we have to hold each other up and help each other out. Let’s do that.
Karis is a grad student at NYU in New York City. Her writing has appeared online with Seventeen as well as Good Housekeeping. She blogs at karisrogerson.com. To stay informed about all her writing, sign up here.