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Should you compare yourself to others?

jcsmileyjr profile image JC Smiley Updated on ・7 min read

I ask my local tech community this question, "The pillars of the tech community is filled with college drop-outs and failures. Why should we not compare ourselves to others?" The following is a curated list of their answers.

Lawrence Lockhart
My gut reaction is no, no comparing, it's unhealthy and all that jazz. But if you don't compare yourself to someone what is your gauge? If I want to get to the level of one of my local mentors like a James Quick or Bryce Sharp or Joe Ferguson, I've gotta do some comparing for any given skill, accomplishment, or job title. If I'm going to begin my march toward that, I need a target to hit. The target gives me something to go for and let's me chart a path. In the absence of that comparing, what am I shooting for?

As with all things, there's a flip side and in this case it's comparing yourself and then following that with feelings of unworthiness, feelings that you'll never make it, and just plain getting down on yourself. The other thing that isn't good is doing comparisons, then jumping on some bandwagon with no consideration to what that means for you. It's like jumping on learning some new language or technology because "X" person is doing it, but that may not actually have any impact on your career growth or may not be useable in your job market.

So YES compare where you are to where you want to be. That's the old ship without a rudder metaphor. But NO, don't let that comparison bring you down, let it be motivation to bring you up! What do I do? I'm always comparing, always. I do this from the perspective of observing enough examples of people to be able to form an informed model of who I'd like to become.

Brett Rehberg
We should compare ourselves to others to the best of our ability. And in the same way we should reflect upon ourselves in the past and future to think about where we want to go and where we have been.

Comparison and judging are two different things. This is very true and I would like to mention both have some similarities and differences. They both are non-judgmental. I know this seems weird for judging, but hear me out. We compare things and group them as good/bad/etc. We judge things and group them as good/bad/etc. It is what we do with the result of the judging that is judgmental. The act of judging is neutral. So what is the different? Judging comes after comparison if it is done correctly. Judging with no data (comparison results) leads to poor judgement (garbage in, garbage out). Thus I feel judging without first true comparison (finding all the differences and biases that influence the result) is a fool's errand. First you must compare, then you may judge, then you can act in an informed non-judgmental manner.

For me, one must know yourself to judge and compete against yourself. Meaning where are you on the road of "emotional maturity" from Fragile -> Robust -> Resilient -> Anti-Fragile. The correct delivery for the robust learner will shut down a fragile person and they gain nothing. By the same token the robust learner will respond well to some stress, but too much can cause an angry and frustrated response. The Resilient learner will rebound from those same stressors, "lick his wounds", and come back stronger than you can even imagine. And once this is truly internalized you may become Anti-fragile in that you seek out the pain and struggle that break the others in order to test yourself. Writing it out is one thing, but doing and being it are a whole different journey. Small corrections for tone for there is no shame in being fragile. We were all small at one point as that is the human condition.

JC Smiley
We shouldn't compare ourselves to others cause we don't know their entire story. We don't know what advantages they had, help they receive, or how they really started. Instead, use their achievements to know what you can achieved. Someone has set the bar and if they can do it, you can surpassed it.

Corey McCarty
Comparison and judging are two different things. You get a comparison when you have a difference on something. That is quite beneficial. Let's say that we have a difference in my_resume.txt and job_requirements.txt. The difference tells us all the things that we need to learn to meet the full job requirements. That is information, and not judgement. The bit that I think that we should avoid is judging ourselves when we see that others have skills that we don't. In nearly ANY comparison of two random people you will find that each of them has skills the other doesn't. That's a good thing. It'd be boring if we all had the exact same skill set.

NOW, if you see that the people that you wish to be like all seem to be doing X, Y, & Z then it's important to realize that learning those might be able to help you to be more like the people that you wish to emulate.

Using that information to cast judgement is a whole other thing. Saying that I'm not as good as Lawrence because I couldn't get a full time gig at FedEx in spite of being there for five years isn't helpful. We are different people doing different things. It also supposes that getting a full time gig at FedEx is something that everyone should do (and it isn't). Set your own goals, and let them be fluid. Try to understand what you are really wanting because 'getting a job at Amazon' isn't really it. There is something about Amazon that you value, and you need to understand that if you ever really want to be happy.

Ryan McGovern
I mean, I'm a college drop-out and arguably a failure, but I'm still trying. I think there are healthy ways to compare with others, but it can be very difficult to avoid the unhealthy comparisons. Hard to explain the difference between healthy vs unhealthy. Healthy comparison could be part of healthy competition, but when it starts affecting you negatively (either over-competitive or getting feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, etc.) drop it.

Like, it's way easier and healthier to have a little comparison when you know someone has a similar background and skill set.

But even then, when a co-worker got a job I was trying to get, I almost fell into the "Well what did they do better/different spiral." Rather, I just asked the company what I could do better next time.

Dennis Kennetz
You certainly can compare yourself to others, but it rarely remains healthy. However, learning from others is always healthy. When you compare yourself to someone else, you are arbitrarily deciding you are better or worse than someone at something. So someone has built a super cool app and you are thinking, "Wow they are definitely better than me, I need to get to that level." That may or may not be true. That app took them time, they certainly learned a ton along the way, and they saw it through to the end. Who's to say that you couldn't do the same thing if you put in the time and effort?

Timothy Sutton
I don't think there's anything wrong with taking a litmus test every so often where you compare to others/coworkers, but I definitely don't think it's healthy to obsess over. I think it can help you gauge where you might need to improve your skills, and it can also show you what you excel at. On the other hand, I think comparison can lead to paralysis. I sometimes struggle seeing others work and struggling to start work on something because I think it won't be as good as what they have made.

Dinesh Sharma
Comparing is very natural though, experience tells me we see just tip of the ice burg when we see some luminary! That tip just show all success and all happiness.

In Conclusion

Should we compare ourselves to other people?

To compare and gauge our skills against others is natural and healthy. Someone that have skills we don't have gives us a road-map to follow. That comparison should be a motivation and the difference a bar we plan to surpass.

There are two things to consider, are we comparing or judging ourselves to someone. To compare is to research what is different, so we can gauge what is needed to be learned. Its necessary to learn their entire story including the ups and downs. To judge is to determine without real facts what we need to learn thus making that determination faulty.

It's more important to understand what you truly want so you can be happy instead of trying to be like someone else.

Comparing ourselves to others can become dangerous if you

  • Obsess over comparing yourself to others
  • Think that others work is better than yours before you start
  • Don't research the time and effort someone put into whatever that makes them different from you
  • When you become over-competitive
  • If you start feeling worthless or inadequate,
  • Learn or do something because someone else knows or done it without considering what that means for you.

Please help others learn by leaving a comment on if you should compare yourself to others. Thank You!!!

Code Connector is a non-profit that's organized tech meetups to help people start their journey into tech. You can join our daily conversations by clicking this link: Code Connector slack channel.

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JC Smiley

@jcsmileyjr

Front End Developer with a focus on React (web) and React Native (mobile), Code Connector national team Online Content Manager and a leader for the Memphis chapter, Gardner, and Outdoor Enthusiast

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