Scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across this post on comparison from Becoming Minimalist. Joshua is an eloquent writer, and I always enjoy what he has to say, so I picked it for my morning read. And on this particular day, it carried a personal significance that I haven’t experienced lately.
Some backstory is necessary here. I recently finished up my third year of college (very excited to be closer to the adult world…), which was a rewarding, challenging, and very revealing 9 months. I got the best semester GPA I’ve ever gotten, put the biggest software project I’ve ever worked on into production, performed on two of the biggest stages in the marching arts (Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and WGI championships), and have naturally learned a ton in the process. But I don’t feel like I did any of it very well. With almost every assignment I turned in, every line of code I wrote, and every note I played, there was a nagging feeling that it could’ve been better. No matter how hard I pushed myself - which was too hard, on multiple occasions - I could never seem to finish anything with a deep sense of satisfaction or accomplishment.
Now that I’ve had the time to reflect on it a bit, the solution is obvious: do less, and do it better. I’m not marching competitively anymore. I’m spending as much time as possible this summer studying independently to set myself up for success next year. I’ll be committing a lot of time to my startup as well, so I can step back from it when school starts again in the fall. And when it does, I’ll be spending much more time studying than I have over the past three years.
I know this is the right approach. I want a lot of space to explore and enjoy what I’m doing. In thinking about that space though, I’ve begun to compare myself a lot to the people around me. As a student at a competitive university and as a member of one of the top 20 indoor drumlines in the world, it’s hard not to. I’ve often had thoughts like:
- “His hands are great. Why can’t I drum that well?”
- “He’s double majoring. Why am I not doing that?”
- “His grades are phenomenal. Why aren’t my grades that high?”
- “He’s running a startup. Why don’t I know how to do that?”
On the surface, those are all fairly easy questions to answer. So I’ve answered them. More often than not, the answer is something along the lines of “I’m doing more instead of doing better, so we’re even.” Which is… ridiculous. It’s more naive and more narcissistic than I’d like to admit, and it’s a way to justify settling for my current circumstances. Simply put, it’s a thinly veiled excuse for not putting in the effort to improve myself and my outlook.
The danger of comparison has finally hit me. And it doesn’t have much to do with answering those questions. Merely asking them so consistently, and subliminally doubting myself as a result, has had more of an impact than I would have expected. Comparing yourself to those around you often leads you to focus on your perceived deficits instead of your strengths. And you don’t realize how distracting - if not actively damaging - that can be until you look back on it.
“Alright, easy,” you’re thinking, “I just won’t compare myself to other people and solve this problem before it starts.” Which is exactly what I thought the first time I read anything about personal comparison. But that was before I realized I was doing it.
Sit back for a while and give it some though. Maybe you really don’t compare yourself to those around you (in which case, congratulations). But I’m willing to be that you do it at least occasionally. Recognize where that might be happening. Accept that you’re doing it. Then go read Joshua’s post. I promise it’ll be worth your time.