Lewis Howes is an absolute monster. The guy is everywhere! He’s on TV shows, every time I log onto Facebook he’s on my news feed, he’s doing podcasts with a long list of people I’d like to know, and to top it off, he’s a New York Times bestseller.
Lewis, who is only a couple years older than I, has already built several multi-million dollar online companies. He’s interviewed Alanis Morisette and Arianna Huffington and Tim Ferriss, and Olympic gold medalists and billionaires and… and those people don’t want to hang out with me. I don’t think I’m allowed to eat at their table.
And as I think about it, I can’t help but wonder… what’s wrong with me?
And that, my friends, is the Comparison Trap.
We all do it, and it always hurts us. There are two versions of the comparison trap, both of which are destructive to your quest to be a true leader, and to accomplish truly worthy goals.
First, in version A, we compare ourselves to others to convince ourselves of our worth or value. “Well, at least I’m not in jail,” or, “At least I have a job,” or any variation where we choose a specific item in another person’s life to scrutinize to the end that is our benefit. In other words, we compare to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.
A friend of mine regularly visits a prison here in middle Tennessee. He recently shared with me, “We all say, ‘well at least I’m not in jail.’ But the guys in jail, they all say to me, ‘at least I’m not a murderer.’ And the murderers, they say to me, ‘at least I’m not a rapist.'” The cycle never ends.
Second, in version B, we compare ourselves to others in a way that gives legs to our self-doubt, like I did above with Lewis Howes. Version B says, “There’s something wrong with me, because I haven’t made as much money as she has,” or, “because I’m not as strong as he is.”
It’s version B of the comparison trap that I want to look at today. There are 4 ways (at least), that this type of comparison can be destructive.
The Comparison Trap Severs Relationships
First, the Comparison Trap severs relationships, or worse, cuts us off from valuable relationships before they ever come into being. The Trap pits me against you. It pits me against Lewis. He’s my competition. I view his success relative to my own, and I am threatened or demeaned—or both—by what he has done and I haven’t. It hardly facilitates compassion, appreciation, collaboration, or an abundance mindset.
It creates a chasm between me, and anyone else, since they are no longer people, they are measuring sticks that threaten my self worth.
The Comparison Trap Robs You of Gratitude
The trap of comparison brings into focus what you don’t have. It places at the forefront of your mind what you haven’t done. I acknowledge freely and with enthusiasm the importance of having goals—that healthy discontent that drives us toward higher ground, into uncharted waters, to change our legacy. But every single one of us has a past that is worthy of gratitude. Every one of us has accomplished something; we have all grown, we have all learned, we have all gained ground. It isn’t healthy to forget that completely, yet the Comparison Trap invalidates all of that.
The Comparison Trap Distorts Reality
An important and incriminating attribute of the comparison trap is that, almost without exception, we are comparing our circumstances or accomplishments, with imagined versions of the circumstances or accomplishments of others.
I’ll circle back to the Lewis Howes example. I know that he has had business success, that he has a lot of money and is somewhat famous. What I don’t know is what his relationships are like with friends or significant others. What his home life was like growing up. What his physical health is like. What he struggles with emotionally, internally, what he fears, etc. And so I fill in that information with imagined best case scenarios. I see the areas I envy—namely, the success in business—and attribute that success to every single area of his life. Even though I know it’s impossible, I end up viewing Lewis’ life as perfect, problem-free and magical.
No matter what I do, my life won’t compare to the imagined versions of other peoples’ lives. It’s a distortion of reality.
The Comparison Trap Creates Victims
Imperative to your goal—starting that business, opening that bakery, writing that book, getting that amazing job—is fierce loyalty to your own responsibility in the situation, for better or worse. Without that, your ambition is removed from your hands completely. However, when we fall into the trap of comparison, it puts us on our heals and demands we take up a defensive posture. The result is our attempts to defend our current position against the (imagined) contrast of the other person’s accomplishments. “Well, I would have a successful blog too, if I knew Michael Hyatt personally.” Or, “Any one can start a successful company if they just have rich parents.” The person uttering these comments is far from the conqueror of audacious goals—they are now a powerless victim of circumstance, doomed to be the poor offspring of poorer parents who hates his job and doesn’t know Michael Hyatt.
So I encourage you to catch yourself when you begin to compare. If you’re like me, you do it more often than you realize. Remember that the life you’re comparing it to is likely imagined, (I guarantee even Lewis Howes has problems), and that it is within your power to rise up and respond to your circumstances in whatever way you choose.
No more comparison. It’s wasted energy. It’s a trap. Instead, work to fashion your life into the type of life that you’re comparing it to.
Go-To Resource: I am currently reading this book and I’m loving it. The gist of The School of Greatness is that Lewis, as I mentioned above, has had access to hundreds of incredibly high achievers, and has made it his business to ask them great questions about what sets them apart. He distills this vast wealth of insight down into digestible principles and passes them to the reader. I love being privy to the habits and mindsets of people who have pushed the limits.