I had a friend who went to work as a legal secretary in a big law firm 20 years ago. In this blog I will call her Sally. That’s not her real name, but I want to protect her identity. She was an incredibly intelligent woman and before she knew it she had made friends with all the female lawyers at this firm. Sally was aged in her twenties and used to go out for dinner and drinks with these women-lawyers. Keeping company with these female lawyers, Sally soon started to feel inadequate because she wasn’t a lawyer, she was a secretary.
Sally was easily intelligent enough to have studied law, but her life didn’t lead her in that direction. Her parents were migrants, who couldn’t even write in English. She was sent to the local high school, and the teachers there were pretty ordinary and uninspiring. Sally’s parents didn’t earn a lot of money, so she got a job after school working in a supermarket to help ends meet. Working she fell behind in her studies and ended up leaving school at the end of year 11. After a couple of years at the supermarket Sally got bored. She saved up and went to secretarial school, then she got a job in administration, and eventually made her way to this big law firm.
But in her late twenties Sally started comparing herself to the female lawyers she worked with, and felt like an underachiever. The lawyers she worked with had led very different lives to Sally’s. Their parents were born in Australia. They held professional jobs – they were doctors, and bank managers and CEOs. These women had had the good fortune to be sent to top grammar schools. They weren’t working as check-out chicks while at school helping their parents pay the bills. They were at home studying for exams. Their parents were also in a position to support them through university.
Sally didn’t consider any of this. She instead spent her days feeling like a failure. One night she went out for drinks with her female-lawyer friends and met a bunch of male lawyers from another firm. Sally found one of those guys very attractive, and when he asked her what she did, she lied and said she was a lawyer at the firm. She was embarrassed to say she was a secretary. The next day he rang and asked to speak to the lawyer named Sally. He wanted to ask her out on a date. He soon found out that Sally wasn’t a lawyer but a secretary. The truth is this guy didn’t care what Sally did. He just thought she was a great girl, but he was very disappointed to discover she had lied. The story of Sally’s lie quickly circulated the office. Her actions were not only unethical but illegal. Sally was humiliated and ended up quitting. She got a new job she didn’t enjoy at a real estate office. It took Sally years to recover from this life setback. And it was ultimately caused by her comparing herself to others.
Do you compare yourself to others? Do you sometimes feel inadequate? Or do you feel better about yourself when other people are faring worse than you? Neither attitude is healthy. No one has lived your life, has your set of strengths and weaknesses or your personality, therefore lining yourself up against others is a futile exercise. In this world it makes more sense to have a generous and forgiving heart. Forgive yourself your own failings and forgive others. Never gloat over their misfortunes and have the grace and largesse to applaud others when they succeed.
If you have been struggling to stop yourself from comparisons with others then I have a few tips to help you.
1. Recognise when you are tempted to size yourself up against others
What leads you to comparing yourself against others? Is it when you are in close proximity with fortunate people and you see what they have materially? Do you covet other people’s success at work? Do you get on social media and read about old friends going on expensive holidays to exotic locations? Do you feel jealous when things are going wrong in your life?
Start documenting who you compare yourself to and how this comparison makes you feel. Now remind yourself that everyone’s life is different. You don’t know what advantages other people have had. Some people are just naturally intelligent and gifted. Pretend that they are like Spiderman or Wonder Woman – they are super-human so comparing yourself with them is only going to make you feel bad. You may not be super human, but you are still a valuable and loved person. That is okay.
At the end of the day you need to come to the realisation that comparisons are a waste of time and energy and you need to stop.
2. You don’t know what is actually happening in their life
Have you read the novel, Little Big Lies? On the surface the main character appears to have it all – looks, beauty, money and a handsome husband. But we soon discover she is a victim of domestic violence. You can never know what is happening in someone’s life. People tend to put their best foot forward. They want you to believe that they are happy and prospering. They aren’t going to tell you that their spouse hates them and their children won’t talk to them.
Next time you feel jealously towards another remember that you may not be seeing the full picture. Don’t wish unhappiness on that person. That would be very mean spirited. If their life is a total success be happy for them, however do remember that people often present facades of perfection. All I’m saying is be very slow to judge others or covet their success as you might not be seeing the whole picture.
3. There is more to life than material wealth
You can have all the money in the world, but if you have no love, you will not be happy. People who are materially wealthy often inspire jealousy in others, but how many times have you read in the newspaper about the sad and lonely life of famed celebrities – celebrities who appear to have everything, then die alone in a hotel room.
Sure, it is nice to be able to afford nice things but what gives our life meaning is our friends and family. Invest in your friendships and treasure your family. People are so much more important than dollars. If you have loving friends and family you are truly blessed, and you’re being foolish comparing yourself to people you perceive as more fortunate because they have a few more dollars in the bank. Again you don’t know the whole story.
Focus on your life, and giving emotionally and spiritually to the people dear to you. Take your focus off others and put it back on you.
4. Try a little gratitude
One sure fire way of ridding yourself of jealousy is to offer up a prayer of thanks every day. You might not think you are very religious, but try this. Make a list of all your blessings – your family, friends, even your loyal dog, your health, the peaceful country you live in, the sun in the sky, the birds in the trees.
Spend at least 15 minutes every day meditating on your blessings then you will no longer be preoccupied with other people’s success. You will realise you are successful.
5. If you have to look at other people, use that as motivation
Instead of feeling jealousy and scorn for people who are successful, find it in your heart to celebrate their good fortune. Be glad there are still people in this world who make good choices and come out on top. Examine how they have lived their lives, and try to adopt some of their strategies. Work hard, invest wisely, save. Be motivated by their wins, instead of coveting their life. Let these people inspire you to be a better person. Do not allow yourself to become the green-eyed monster.
Comparing ourselves to others is such a waste of time, because our lives are so different. We are all different people. At the end of the day the race of life is long, but you are only really competing against yourself. Aim to be the best version of yourself possible.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.