What would our life look like if we stopped comparing ourselves with each other?
This is hard to visualise as our world feeds off the assumption that we want to be better than our neighbour. If we could remove this trait from our daily lives, we’d have a totally different perspective – one that would free us up to live a more creative and productive life.
Recently I was reminded of this when I was on the way to the airport for my first plane trip after two years in lockdown. As I sat in the taxi, I saw this giant sign that read “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The words struck me – deep into my heart. I giggled as I was at that very moment wondering what other people would be wearing on the plane and was my black tracksuit a bit boring? These wise words showed me that it didn’t matter.
How true was this quote, but who said it? I surfed the internet – and found that President Theodore Roosevelt said these words to a friend in 1898. Box that in your memory for your next trivia quiz!
The time we spend comparing ourselves is time lost in living our own lives.
Most of us compare ourselves without even thinking about it – it feels like a natural thing to do because the world says it’s OK. When I was younger, I could have won the “I compare more than you” competition. Being fiercely competitive, I watched and monitored everyone in the sports I competed in. If I could go back in time, the one lesson I’d wish I’d learnt was that we are all unique and different. It would have been more beneficial to have focused on my qualities and skills and not on others.
Why do we do it? The time we spend comparing ourselves is time lost in living our own lives – hours and hours of stolen joy. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by others and learning from them, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to lose sight of who we are. This life lesson also popped up in the new Jurassic Park movie when one of the actors said, “You’re the only you that ever was.” And no, it wasn’t said to a dinosaur!
Out of the 100 billion people who have lived and died on this planet, every one of them had a unique set of DNA. Their personalities, gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses were a one-off. We are all different. Thus, we need to enjoy and love who we are and not try to be someone else – avoid comparison and concentrate on our calling in life.
Time on this earth is a gift and shouldn’t be eaten up in comparing yourself to others for two reasons. Firstly, you will always find someone who seems to be doing a better job than you, and secondly, you will always be able to find someone who doesn’t seem to be as effective as you and you’ll get prideful. Both attitudes will, as Roosevelt says, “rob you of your joy.” Author and poet Max Ehrmann states this clearly when he wrote, “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be a greater and lesser person than yourself.”
Are we going to ignore who we are and focus on someone who we can never be, or turn our eyes on who we were created to be?
The world thrives on pulling us into the comparison trap – all the social media platforms, television and media advertising. An awareness of how this affects us is the start of controlling that tiny voice inside our heads that says, “I wish I was like her/him” or “she’s/he’s not that good”. You don’t need this in your life because you’re one-of-a-kind, rare, unique. Wanting to be somebody else is stripping you from you.
I remembered an embarrassing gym incident that gave me the same wakeup call on the pitfalls of comparison as this sign had done. I was at the local gym, coming to the end of my workout on the treadmill machine, and I spotted a brightly dressed lady next to me. “Wow! I wouldn’t have worn that,” I thought as suddenly I tripped and flew backwards off the machine and landed face down. Lesson learnt!
You should be overjoyed and excited that there is only one of you. The question we must ask is what are we going to do with this ‘one-of-a-kind’ me? Are we going to ignore who we are and focus on someone who we can never be, or turn our eyes on who we were created to be?
An anonymous writer wrote, “Why compare yourself to others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you.” I look at my life and yes, I’ve done a great deal. But if I’d focused more on my strengths and my calling and less on wanting to be like others, I would have had more joy in my life.
But I still have many years left in me and am now determined not to be sucked into the comparison trap – so I can be me and enjoy every minute of it!
Iona Rossely was a professional athlete who raced for Great Britain in Speed Skiing and then represented Ireland in Endurance horse racing. She is the author of Racing on Empty (2020) her autobiography and The Unexpected (2022), a guide to living in changing and unexpected times. Iona currently lives on a 270-acre farm in Northern New South Wales, Australia.