Three Forms of Comparison


When I look out over something as vast as the ocean, things like self-doubt and comparison feel so far away.

It's when I remember that there is a whole big world around me, so much bigger than my Instagram following or my bank account, and I feel re-connected to a deeper truth. "We are all just walking each other home," as Rumi so eloquently said.

But what about those times when we forget the big picture? What about when we're swimming in comparison, what do we do? And why does it matter that we catch ourselves?

For the most part, my clients and students are helpers and healers. They are givers by nature and choose to open businesses or lead from within a company. No matter their path or what brings them to work with me, I hear some form of this almost daily: "Who am I to [fill in the blank]?"

Who am I to be awesome, smart, educated, listened to, helpful, seen, wealthy, valued, good at something...and the list goes on, doesn't it?

While this narrative isn't helpful I've asked this same question more than once in my life. Usually when I was on the verge of stretching what I thought I was capable of.

And it's from this place we tend to seek external validation that we DO have the right to be all of these things. However, when we seek external proof we usually end up face-planted in one of the three forms of comparison.

No. 1 - To Your Ideal Self
Your "ideal self" is who you desire to be. Not just who you desire to be eventually, but right now. For example, your ideal health, body, finances, relationship, clothing, opportunities, income, looks, and self-confidence today at this very moment. Sound like magic, or unrealistic? It is.

We all have "to-do" lists for our life - things we want to experience, accomplish, or become. The list isn't the problem. This is one of the ways we hold ourselves accountable for our own growth and expansion. Your ideal self creates a compelling future, something to keep you moving forward in your life.

The problem is when who we actually are today and the person we desire to be compete for our attention. Your ideal self can be a powerful driver, but it can also make us feel ungrateful and unworthy in the now. (Which is where we always live.) By all means, set goals for your "ideal life," AND leave plenty of space to grow into it.

No. 2 - To Another's Ideal Self
This is the image we project of who we imagine someone else is. In the world of social media and perfectly edited posts, it has made it a little too easy to pretend everyone has it figured out. Perfect hair, perfect family or marriage, perfect body, "perfect yacht-sailing passive income lifestyle" get the idea. (Just watch this video.)

Here's why comparing to someone's ideal self is dangerous: it isn't real. The assumption that someone else has reached some perfect status and then to compare your real life to it can only end one way - and it's likely disappointment, or worse, resentment and anger.

To be fair, most of us want to be seen and perceived a certain way. But how much of what we want people to see is because of how we perceive they are living? Share your life with others, be proud of the things you're working toward and the positive changes you've made, AND stand confidently in them without the need to see how others stack up.

No. 3 - To Society's Ideal Self
"Society's ideal self" is the self we think we're supposed to be based on social conditioning. The good wife, the good mother, the successful 30-something, the quiet woman or brave man, etc. This isn't just our social standards but also family expectations, as well as community and cultural expectations. When we choose differently than what we've been groomed for, we're made to feel like we're bucking the system. But what if we're simply choosing a more authentic path for ourselves?

Like all forms of comparison, this one is difficult to talk about. It's easy to feel like you're a disappointment if you don't take the road someone else paved for you, even if that life has no meaning for you personally.

When in this form of comparison, the hardest thing and the most empowering thing we can do is question. What do you really want? If it weren't for external pressure, what would you choose for yourself? Are there real consequences for going your own way, or is it merely fear?

No matter which form of comparison you find yourself in, it's important to remember that we all do it and we can all feel trapped by it. While quotes and memes about this topic may help uplift the spirit from time to time, they don't do much by way of keeping us from dipping in the comparison pool.

I know that when I end up here it isn't to hold myself back or sabotage something meaningful, but because I don't always know how to trust myself.

Those two little words - trust myself. It "should" be so simple, but it isn't always. How do we get back here? How do we choose trust over comparison?

When I am thick in comparison I can't hear compliments or someone rallying behind me. Not that I don't want to hear it, but it gets lost on me. Although this is a practice, I pause, walk away, get some perspective, and am gentle with myself until the wave passes. Sometimes it passes in minutes and other times it takes weeks. Like I said, practice.

Andrea Wilborn