Are you comparing yourself to Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg or Steve Jobs? Is this bringing you happiness?
Most people compare themselves to others. All the time. It’s a totally ingrained way of how we go through life. Buddhist teachers such as Jack Kornfield call this “the Comparing Mind”. This is very similar to the American saying “keeping up with the Joneses” — making sure that our house, car, education, career, power, image, smartphone, clothes, vacations, food, music, spouse, golf clubs, pets, children, cocktails, health and handbags are at least as good as our neighbors’. And in übercompetitive Silicon Valley, the Comparing Mind is seen everywhere.
People tend to compare on “comparables” — things which an outsider can easily observe. About 95% of all postings on Facebook address the sort of things we love to compare!
But in a TIME magazine poll, 60% of respondents said they do not feel better about themselves after spending time on social media. No surprise there — your Facebook friends most likely share their lives’ highlights, not the lowlights. For example, when I was newly single, I was very careful not to post anything on Facebook at 10 PM on a Saturday night, lest people realize that I was lonely at home at that time. Some time later, however, I made sure that all my Facebook friends saw when I was dancing samba in Rio de Janeiro.
Why doesn’t “the Comparing Mind” bring happiness?
1). No matter how hard you try to manage your “personal brand” to show off your fun life, “keeping up with the Joneses” is a great recipe for you to be unhappy. It’s not that you should not try to keep up. It’s that trying to keep up does not bring happiness. In part, that’s because someone will always have more than you.
2). The comparisons you’re making are probably not even fair to yourself. I’m guilty of this myself — I don’t compare myself to my classmates from high school in Nebraska or college in Iowa. Or even the people I studied with at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. No, I tend to compare myself to some of the very most successful people who’ve ever attended Stanford’s business school. (To be really fair to myself, I’m satisfied with my career, as I discuss in my first blog post, “The Farmer’s Luck in Silicon Valley”, which went viral.) Yes, amazingly successful people in business do exist, and I know seven billionaires personally, but it’s silly for me to feel inadequate about myself because I have not created a global company worth billions.
3). It’s hard to compare on the criteria that really matter. If you’re going to compare yourself to someone else, at least compare on things such as:
- Is this person a “good human being”?
- Are they happy?
- Are they a loving spouse / parent / sibling / son or daughter?
- Are they ethical in their business practices?
- Is the world a better place because they are here?
But ironically, it’s very hard for one person to be able to make any sort of fair judgement on another person, anyway, precisely because we don’t know the other person’s journey. The Comparing Mind is futile. The Judging Mind is, too.
Why is it hard to avoid “the Comparing Mind”?
1). For most people, life is full of real and intense competition. This starts in our educational systems, where students are often “graded on a curve”. Later, in the workforce, managers have to compare multiple people vying for a promotion, and decide who gets the better job. There are real consequences determining who gets hired, who can afford the luxury condo, who gets the Tesla convertible. And whose startup goes bust. (In the Normal World outside of Silicon Valley competition might determine who gets any job? Who gets to keep his home? Who can afford to feed her children?)
2). Heroes, leaders, and role models often inspire us with their amazing courage, skill, dedication, and luck. You become motivated and say to yourself “If she can do it, so can I!” That’s great, but don’t let this other person become your obsession. Instead, find your own truth, on your own path. After all, even if Mark Zuckerberg set out to become Bill Gates, he ended up becoming Mark Zuckerberg. ; – )
3). I have worked in an extremely wide variety of advertising roles, ranging from video production in Spain in 1990 to mobile advertising at a Silicon Valley startup in 2012. I can say with confidence that almost all of advertising is designed to make us feel inadequate. Every day, we are bombarded with advertising messages which encourage us to have a Comparing Mind. Or, to put it another way, the basic strategy of selling through advertising is to “make the customer sick, and then sell them medicine.” So the more ads you see, the more you have the Comparing Mind, the more inadequate you feel, and the more you consume.
But this does not bring happiness.
In my next blog post, which you’ll find here, I’ll explain some benefits of avoiding the Comparing Mind.
[ OK. OK. So maybe you’re feeling a little “sick” now. If you want some “medicine”, learn more about my happiness workshop “Live Before You Die! Find Your Pleasure, Purpose and Peace.“. 😉 ]
This is my second blog post. I really appreciate your feedback. Please email me to let me know what you think, and what other topics you’d like me to address. And I’d love if you connected to me on LinkedIN, or followed me on Twitter. Contact me here. Thanks! Jim