• shiv kumar

The Comparison Trap - 2


In the mid-80s after completing my graduation, I took the GRE Test for pursuing post-graduation in the US. The score that was of keen interest to the educational institutions was the “percentile”. The percentile number referred to the percentage of scores that were below my score. So, if my percentile was 90, it meant that I had scored better than 90% of the people that took the test. Could this be called institutionalized “comparisonism”? 😉

Social comparison begins early in life (for instance, a child in a kindergarten wanting the same toy like the one that another kid has in his hands), gains momentum through school (new fads, fashions, and gadgets that kids want to follow or possess), and becomes deep-rooted in adulthood through comparisons in career, family, wealth, status, and lifestyle. Comparison completes a full circle when the phenomenon moves on to adults comparing their children and how well they’re doing in academics, sport, or any other activity compared to their peers!! If you’ve ever been to a children’s game and observed parents on the sidelines, I’m sure you’ll know how seriously some parents take this whole comparison business!


In today’s workplace, most organizations do not make salary information public. Hence people do not normally know what their colleagues earn. I can remember, back in the early years of my career, there was a lot more transparency around salary information. Every year, when salary reviews came around, the main interest was in knowing how much the others had got! It was all about how well we’d done relative to the others. Let’s take the example of employee ‘A’ earning 50,000 while his colleague (in a similar role) earns 40,000 and another employee ‘B’ earning 70,000 while her colleague earns 80,000. Who do you think would be happier – A or B? If you answered B…. Congratulations!! You belong to the minority that does not suffer from the “comparison-itis” disease! 😊

While on the topic of salary comparisons, here’s something to ponder…What do you think of an important issue like pay parity? While justifiably carrying the flag for the issues of fairness and equality, does it also have a component of comparison in there? Is this one of those instances when comparison can be the driver for a good cause? 🤔


With comparison already so deeply embedded in the human psyche, I think the last thing society needed was for social media to come along and take comparison to even greater heights! In the past decade, people’s lives have been playing out in public, be it through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms. We get to see how other people are living their lives and it has become easy now to feel the pressure of not keeping up. The acronym FOMO has become part of our everyday lexicon. I don’t need to mention here what FOMO stands for, do I? “Keeping up with the Joneses” is passe now…it’s all about FOMO! Oh well OK…. just for the benefit of anyone reading this who might actually not know what it stands for, FOMO is “Fear Of Missing Out” (you can come out from under the rock now😊!!). We often forget that what we see on people’s social media platforms is only a highlight reel of their lives. Here’s a twist to the old adage “never judge a book by the cover” – Do not judge people’s lives by their highlight reels!! – especially if it is going to get you down!


To feel mentally and emotionally healthy, it is essential to free ourselves from the comparison trap. I’m sure none of us want to experience the feeling of unworthiness from upward social comparison, or superiority from downward social comparison. So what can we do? I’ve put together 5 simple ideas to get better at saying NO to ‘comparison-itis’ –

1. Define what success means to YOU – Once we have nailed down our definition of success, the number of times that we might indulge in comparisons would be significantly reduced. For instance, if our success definition is about achieving a financial goal, we won’t really be bothered about someone else’s weight loss, would we?

2. Discover YOUR strengths – Becoming aware of our strengths will help in minimising the tendency of comparing our weaknesses with other people’s strengths. The great Albert Einstein failed his French exams. Fortunately, he didn’t let that failure define him as he was aware that his strengths lay elsewhere!

3. Think of the big picture – Whenever you find yourself slipping into comparison mode (Honestly, I don’t think any amount of researching the negative effects of comparison is likely to cure us completely of this disease… we are human after all!), just remind yourself that there always more to a person’s life than what you’re seeing or hearing. Don’t let a peek through a small window into someone’s life lead to disillusionment or disappointment with your entire life!

4. Always be a student – Develop the ‘continuous learning’ philosophy. If you always think of yourself as a student with lots more to learn in life, it becomes easier to think in terms of ‘collaboration, not competition’ with peers. If you think of yourself as an artist who is still painting his/her masterpiece, you might not be tempted to feel inferior when you view other people’s paintings!

5. Focus on small successes – When ‘comparison-itis’ strikes, take up a small project that you can complete in a relatively short time and do it well. It could be something that you might’ve been putting off for a while. For example, let’s say you’ve started a new online business and you start to feel unsatisfied about the lack of progress. Maybe you’re looking at peers in your industry who are at a similar stage in the business cycle but seem to be gaining a lot more traction. Instead of letting this get you down, how about you focus on something small – like writing a blog or doing a podcast? Doing that specific task well might help with lifting your spirits.

I’d love to get your feedback on how you tackle the comparison trap. Let’s learn from each other and work towards becoming better versions of ourselves. As Oscar Wilde put it in his inimitable style – “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”.


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