Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend a mini piano concert, where 9 children aged 8 to 11 showed what they have learned in the last academic year.
We entered the room with a beautiful black grand piano. Excitement was palpable from these children, mixed with a healthy dose of nerves.
They all took a turn to perform their melodies.
An eight-year-old stepped up to do his last piece. An upbeat jazz melody filled the room. He made a few mistakes but did a good job overall, recovering from every little step back.
Straight afterward, an eleven-year-old exclaimed that she could do the same piece of music and she would like to show it too. Although her mum was not sure if it was a good idea, the teacher insisted she should go ahead and play, so the boy could see how it should be done.
Of course, her way of playing was so much smoother and more flawless as she had three more years of practice.
The boy was inconsolable afterward. He was so disappointed in himself and by that point, no amount of reasoning could help him to evaluate how well he did.
And this is what we often do when we grow up: we compare ourselves to others without the context put in place first.
Comparing can move us forward
Comparing yourself to others is not always a bad thing. If you want to win the Olympics you will have to compare yourself with the performance of other athletes. If you want to do well in an exam, often you will need to compare yourself to the benchmark for doing well.
It is when we compare without context that we risk it becoming toxic.
Are you comparing apples with potatoes?
In most cases, an 8-year-old boy will not be better at playing than an 11-year-old, if both practice a similar amount of time per week.
It is not an indication of how good he is. He simply had fewer years of practice.
When you compare yourself with someone else in your craft, do you ever think about that? Do you ask them how many years and how much time they have spent practicing a certain skill?
What is your reason behind comparing in the first place?
Too often when we are not very confident, we might be tempted to compare ourselves with others as proof of our competence or lack of it.
If you are comparing yourself because you are admiring a certain skill in someone else, then that can be a great learning curve.
In that case, you are likely to approach it with curiosity and wonder. You will be interested in the process of getting better at something and will not put so much attention to the gap itself as you will trust that with practice and time you can close it.
But if you find you are beating yourself up about your shortcomings in the area of comparison and focus only on the gap itself, then you are much more likely to get stuck in self-doubt and the feeling that you are not good enough, which leads us to the next point.
You can never compare your worth with someone else’s
Kristen Neff talks a lot about the difference between self-confidence versus self-compassion.
Too often our self-confidence is tied to our performance and our results.
If we are better than most of our other peers, then our confidence goes up. If we are not – our confidence goes down.
Self-compassion on the other hand focuses on the fact that we are always enough. That our intrinsic value will not go up and down like the stock exchange but will always stay the same.
You will not worry that much about comparing your results with others if you know that your self-worth will not depend on how others do it. Again, you will be able to see it for what it is: where you are now versus where you want to be and then you can have a plan how to close that gap if it is important to you.
However, if your confidence is tied to being better than someone else and you derive your worth from it, then any comparison that exposes your shortcomings will be hard for you to handle.
The next time you catch yourself comparing yourself to someone else make sure you ask yourself these 3 check-in questions?
- In what context am I comparing myself to someone else?
- Am I being curious while comparing or being judgmental of myself or others?
- Do I know in my head and my heart that my worth as a human being cannot be changed and everything else is just a choice of how I want to show up?
Self-Compassion is one of the tools we introduce in our Gentle Ambition Program as we believe that healthy self-worth is one of the foundational blocks of powerful contribution. See more details about the program here