The curse of career comparison

January 13, 2014

Well, you could say both careers were related to those particular assets

I began my newsletter today by admitting that I'm finding it tough to get back into the swing of things this month. I've been feeling sluggish, unmotivated, like I'm not quite strong enough to set in motion the heavy wheels of machinery that make up my work life. These wheels came to an all but complete halt over the Christmas/New Year break. They needed to, as I was exhausted. But as someone who works for herself and is usually pretty driven, I'm feeling bad that my usual motivation is not rushing back in the new year.

As I've looked around me over the past week I've come across plenty of people who seem to be thoroughly motivated, have work raining down on them, people who are, in short, doing very well for themselves. Inevitably, I compare myself, and that results in me doing myself down even more ("What is wrong with you?"). So I was glad to come across this piece today called Escaping the Comparison Loop - it's by Lauren Bacon, who has appeared on a past show and writes a thoughful blog at She points out far more eloquently than I could (there you go - comparison in action) that by constantly ranking ourselves next to other people we are: 

  • Losing sight of our own priorities and values
  • Sucking away our productivity
  • Making a world where if one person is excellent at something - the person we envy - then there's no room for anyone else to be good at it too (which is false)
  • Making other people into 'gurus' when they're actually human beings like the rest of us
  • Missing the fact that when we look down on - or up to - someone else, it may be because they're doing something we don't dare to do ourselves. Lauren uses the example of someone she used to work with who was an avid self-promoter - an office experience I can relate to. She hated it (as did I), but ultimately realized the problem was her, not him (again, ditto). She didn't have the guts to go all out and talk about herself the way he did, didn't think she was worthy enough to merit the attention and questioned what people would think of her if she did show off a bit - all common female reactions to the idea of letting others know about our achievements. 

This may seem petty, but I believe a lot of these small things can add up and sap our energy over the long term, making us less effective overall, and certainly less happy.

Lauren and Tanya Geisler, who did a TED talk on impostor syndrome, another largely female affliction, are soon launching a workshop on how to quash your inner comparison freak and get out of that mindset altogether.

I'd love to know whether women are more apt to compare ourselves with others than men. I suspect so, but have no proof.