"I Can't Stop Comparing Myself to Others in My Industry"
As human beings, we are naturally pulled to compare ourselves to others; it is an aspect of humanity that is bound to happen because we share the same spaces and are capable of observing one another.
Comparison is not inherently bad; noticing differences between ourselves and other people is a byproduct of taking in our environments and generally being observant creatures.
Once labels and judgments about ourselves and others are applied to the information we take in, that comparison becomes Envy, a Noisy Passenger on our bus who attempts to get more involved than they should in how we drive and where we go.
what does envy sound like for entrepreneurs?
Have you ever worried that you’re taking up space when there are people who seemingly deserve that space more than you? Have you ever feared that someone else was already doing what you want to do and that they are doing it better than you? Do you envy other entrepreneurs for any reason? Do you compare yourself to others in your industry and wonder why you aren’t doing as awesome as they are?
That’s Envy, telling you that you’re driving your bus down a path that has already been paved by someone else, that you’re going in a direction someone else has already driven, and that you’re chasing accomplishments someone else has already achieved. Envy is telling you that your efforts are futile because someone somewhere has already been there and done that.
Why would Envy say those things?
Truthfully, our brains are excellent problem-solving machines. From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, our minds are hard at work finding problems to solve and working to find solutions to them. Consider the number of problems your mind solves for you in a given day: What should I wear today? Where should I go for lunch? Should I hang out with my friends tonight or stay home and watch something on Netflix? Our brains love to have something to do and we offer it plenty of little dilemmas to resolve throughout the day to keep it busy. Sometimes, our brains work overtime and continue finding problems and subsequent solutions while we sleep (or attempt to sleep!)
When Envy pops up behind you while you’re driving your bus to tell you that you might as well pull over because somebody else owns the route you’re driving, that is simply your brain attempting to identify an issue and solve it. Observation doesn’t give your brain something to do; turning an observation into a problem gives it fuel to go to work. When we compare ourselves to others, we provide our minds with tons of potential problems to solve whether we mean to or not and they immediately set to work fixing those potential issues.
Your emotions trigger your brain’s response
Before you go thinking your brain is conspiring against you, waiting to turn everything you see or hear into fodder for self-sabotage, it’s important to understand that the brain doesn’t have that kind of power. At an emotional level, the mind is attempting to interpret what’s going on and it only has four basic resources to choose from: joy, sadness, fear, and anger.
When we observe something we have an emotional response to it. In the case of Envy, we are usually consuming information about another person’s accomplishment in an area where we haven’t achieved what we desire. We have an internal emotional response to that Envy and our brain attempts to interpret that response.
Usually, our minds perceive that particular emotional response as anger. We are angry at other entrepreneurs for getting what we want and we are angry at ourselves for our lack of success. We are angry because every time we see another entrepreneur have a successful five- or six-figure launch, or publish a book, or maintain an email list of thousands of people, we are reminded of our own perceived shortcomings in those areas. We are angry because instead of getting work done to move us toward our goals we waste time focusing on what other people are doing.
If we go a layer deeper, our minds are probably also interpreting that Envy as fear. Many people like to posit anger as a secondary emotion, but honestly, people are just complex and capable of experiencing more than one emotion at a time. We can also fluctuate between emotions in response to the same experience. With entrepreneurial Envy, we fear that we may never reach the levels of success that we desire. (We fear failure as well but that is examined as another Noisy Passenger, Fear of Failure. Let’s refer to it as Envy’s older sibling.)
When our brains process this emotional information and come up with anger and fear as the explanation, they do what they do best and apply a problem to it - why do I suck at this and that other person doesn’t? - and then work to find a solution to that problem. The solution ends up being the stuff Envy tells us to try and take the wheel of the bus from us: if you suck so badly, obviously you shouldn’t be driving the bus. The brain doesn’t always come up with the best solution to a dilemma; its primary function is typically finding the easiest solution.
the mind is great at comparison
Another aspect of this that isn’t easy to see at first is just how easily the mind comes up with things to compare and judgments and labels about what is being compared. Pick two random objects, let’s say an ink pen and a chair. Now decide which one is better. Notice how quickly and simply your brain comes up with reasons why one is better than the other. Maybe it told you the ink pen is better because you can write with it to communicate with others. Maybe it told you the chair is better because it provides a comfortable place for you to sit and rest your legs. It probably seems weird that the mind can produce that information almost instantly, but that’s just how powerful a machine it is.
If it can compare two random things that rapidly and effortlessly, consider how much more skillful it might be at comparing you with another entrepreneur and deciding which of you is better and why.
so what do we do about it?
First, it’s crucial to understand that when we experience pain it is an indicator of what we care about. In fact, our pain tells us about what matters to us in ways our joy probably never could. The anger and fear that swells up inside of us when we compare ourselves to others are telling us that there’s something deep inside of us that we need to suss out. That something is our values.
Values are the decisions we get to make about our lives and the direction our lives will go, both on a daily basis and over the span of our lifetimes. When we experience emotions, we don’t have control over which emotions show up, when they show up, and how they manifest themselves. Even though they are uncontrollable, they are quite useful in assisting us in figuring out what matters most to us. Unlike our emotions, we have total control over what we value and how we choose to implement those values from day to day.
Second, we must come to terms with the fact that we cannot just make the fear and anger go away and therefore stop Envy from telling us how to drive the bus. That bit about emotions being uncontrollable applies to all thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Since anger and fear are feelings, they fall under the umbrella of being outside of our control. We just don’t have the capability of telling our brains to bend to our command the way we wish we did.
If you still aren’t convinced, try this: think of something, anything you’d like, except for a green teapot. Do not, under any circumstances, think of a green teapot. How did you do? Chances are you probably thought of a green teapot even though the exercise was to think of literally anything else. You probably thought of other things too but the green teapot was in there. That’s because the mind works by addition, not subtraction. We cannot just eliminate whatever we don’t want in there.
If you can’t tell it not to think of a green teapot, you can’t tell it not to compare or get angry or fearful either.
okay, so what do we do about it?
Realistically, you can do whatever you want when you get angry and fearful and Envy tries to take over. If you find yourself doing the same things over and over and still butting heads with them, I’d like to offer some options you can add to your list of possible responses.
1. Work on accepting the anger and fear
WHAT?! Yes, it’s important to practice accepting these emotions as things that are going to show up in response to comparison. It’s also important to accept that Envy will be a passenger on your bus that you can’t get rid of. Come to terms with the fact that you won’t always know when Envy will start talking or how loud it will get, and practice just being uncomfortable when it gets going without trying to do anything about it.
This is not easy. Sometimes my Envy gets loud when I see entrepreneurs in Facebook groups growing their email lists and launching products and services all over the place. Consider, though, how much easier it might be to simply notice those feelings bubbling inside of you toward yourself or someone else rather than immediately engage with them and try to kick them out. The reality is that they aren’t going anywhere, but you don’t have to fight with them just because they’re there. They can just be there.
2. Turn your attention toward yourself
We need to remember that the brain shoots for the quickest thing it can grasp from all of the information it receives and that usually means it looks externally. When it interprets anger and fear as your emotional response to a comparison of yourself to another person, it’s easier for your mind to come up with the problem of why do I suck and that person doesn’t? instead of looking inward and coming up with how do I get to where I want to be?
Envy is all about focusing on the external: the people around you who have what you don’t and are doing what you aren’t. Your job is to gently turn your attention back toward yourself and determine what the fear and anger underneath all that Envy are trying to tell you about what you care about. Does fear show up when you see someone else celebrating a five-figure product launch? You might learn that financial security is important to you. Do you become angry when you read an email about someone who travels and still earns a full-time income from their blog? That might be communicating that you enjoy traveling and want to expose yourself to new experiences.
Sitting in the discomfort of fear and anger when Envy shows up is not pleasant, otherwise, it wouldn’t be uncomfortable. However, allowing yourself some time to just be uncomfortable and contemplate your feelings when they show up can help you learn more about yourself and what you care about.
3. Form a different relationship with your feelings
The following exercises are a few fun, possibly silly, and highly engaging ways to develop a new perspective toward your feelings when they show up in unwanted ways.
- Give your mind a name. Let’s say you name your mind Olivia. Whenever Envy starts to ask you why you’re so awful or tell you how much better so-and-so is at running a business, tell yourself (out loud), “Oh, that’s just Olivia. She says things like that all the time.” This exercise gives you a little separation from your feelings so that you have more time and space to process them.
- Write down that angry or fearful thought on an index card and put it in your pocket or your purse. Throughout the day you’ll notice that it’s there with you, and also that you don’t have to do anything with it in order to keep going. This is similar to Envy: it’s there talking and bothering you while you drive your bus, but you don’t have to engage with it in order to keep driving.
- If you’re at home or in your office, take a look around the room. List five things you like or appreciate about the room. Now list five things you dislike or don’t appreciate. Notice that the room never changed; only your perception of the room was different. How can you incorporate another perspective in response to a comparison you’ve made?
Exercises like these will not eliminate or circumvent the anger and fear that show up from Envy (remember: addition, not subtraction). They just redirect the energy produced by those feelings. Instead of all that energy going into beating yourself up for everything you haven’t done or attained, perhaps it could fuel your efforts to keep working toward what you care about.
4. Take action
Now that you have clarified your values from the unsettling communication your anger and fear were sending, I encourage you to take intentional action in service of those values. If you found that you value financial security, what action steps can you take to build up an emergency fund or secure more income for your business? If you value travel, what steps can you take to go on a trip in the next six or twelve months?
Now you can get back to driving your bus
Instead of just focusing all of your attention on others and what they’re doing, you have ways of turning your gaze back onto yourself and taking deliberate steps to get where you want to be. Whenever Envy gets loud, you have a way of relating and responding to it that keep you in control of the bus and moving in the direction of your choosing. You no longer have to grapple with hating others for their success and hating yourself for your lack thereof. You can decide what actions you’ll take to move in the direction of what matters most to you (which, by the way, you may never have uncovered if not for your Envy speaking up in the first place.)
P.S. Before you leave!
How did you feel reading about Envy just now?
What resonated with you?
What strategies will you employ to relate to your Envy differently?
I'd love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments below.