Comparing yourself to others in a no-win situation. Here’s what you should be doing instead.
Last week after the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, a new show called Friends With Better Lives premiered. The show has gotten a legitimate amount of buzz with its cast that includes James Van Der Beek (who will always be Dawson Leary, no matter how many shows he is on), Kevin Connelly (Entourage), Brooklyn Decker and Zoe Lister-Jones (who you may not know, but you will soon) and its excellent time slot on Monday nights.
But the real reason people may give this show a shot is because it revolves around the ageless concept of “the grass is always greener.” We always think someone else has it better off than us, whether it be financially, career-wise (wouldn’t it be cool to be a surf instructor?) or in terms of their looks, location, ability to pull off hats or yoga capability.
If you’re anything like me, you may suffer from CCMTO (Constantly Comparing Myself To Others). It is one of my worst habits, even though I know this is not how I should approach the world. But I can’t help it. I have always done it. I love my friends and am thrilled for their achievements and happiness, but there are certain times when I wonder, “Why can’t it be that easy for me to do that?”
But apparently I am not alone in my CCMTO. Psychiatrist Judith Orloff calls us a society of “comparison junkies.” And it starts pretty much from day one. Babies are compared to each other: Who is the cutest? Who’s crawling first? Speaking first? Has the most hair? Orloff writes, “Comparing yourself to others can preclude a bond of common fellowship and is a disservice to finding true worth. Either you’ll end up with the short end of the stick or, if you deign to put yourself above anyone, you’re nowhere. (No one is above anyone else.) Self-esteem must come from simply being you.” (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Sometimes the comparisons get so out of hand that we end up losing friends. Last week, Christina Pesoli wrote for Huffington Post about a very negative tendency many women have that’s a result of comparing themselves to their friends. Pesoli describes it as the “Two Out of Three Club.” She writes:
It is a sorority of women dedicated to keeping each other from living full lives. Few people know that the sorority exists, and fewer still realize that they are active members of it. Like computer zombies that are part of a vast botnet, women in this sorority work overtime to sabotage each other’s success, yet they aren’t even aware that they are part of this destructive network.
Members of the Two Out of Three Club condition their friendship with you on your having only two out of the following three things going for you: looks, success and happiness. If you have a great career and a fantastic boyfriend, you’d better look like Ugly Betty. If you are gorgeous and have a job that you love, your boyfriend better be a jackass. If you and your significant other have a good thing going and you’re also attractive, you’d better have a boss like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada.
This is tough to hear, but I think most of us can admit that we may have at times pledged this sorority or at least acted like we could be a member. Jealousy can rear a very ugly head, and that head usually comes out in the form of being unsupportive. This is especially bad if it happens in the workplace.
Women need to support each other as we move up the ranks and not turn our backs on each other. Kathi Elster, co-author of Mean Girls at Work: How To Stay Professional when Things Get Personal told me, “The workplace is competitive by nature. And many women are conflicted when it comes to competition: we want to be liked and we want to win at the same time. The result is covert competition — which often manifests as mean behavior. For example, a woman might be nice and friendly to her coworker’s face, but say things that erode that person’s reputation behind her back.”
So, how do we get over this?
1. Identify the person you feel envy towards or are jealous of
Find that person you tend to envy and try to mindfully stop comparing yourself. Whenever you think you are about to do it, think of something else. Think about how you can do better at work or contemplate something really tough, like the series finale of Lost.
2. Jump on the bandwagon
Instead of pouting or looking sad when you hear something good about this person or they receive praise from your boss, jump on the bandwagon. Say “good job” too! Show that you’re confident. But by being generous to them, you will receive generosity back. Same for kindness and encouragement. Put it out there.
3. Learn from them and make a change
Why are you jealous of this person? Is it because they seem to be doing better at work than you? Then figure out what you need to also excel. Do they do extra work? Do they lead projects? Take a cue from them. If they are in shape, ask them what exercises they use or for some diet tips. If it’s a friend, ask them where they shop. Use your negative feelings to your advantage.
Meredith Lepore is the former editor of the women’s career site The Grindstone. Before that, she was on staff at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and was a contributing writer for LearnVest. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University after graduating with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester. Meredith resides in New York full-time and enjoys reading, jogging, shopping and playing with her puppy, Otis.