Eleanor Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy, and for a long time I agreed.
After all, how many of us know the feeling of comparing ourselves to someone else and finding ourselves lacking in some way, or having felt excited about something we bought until we saw someone else who had a bigger, shinier version of the same thing and suddenly we felt resentful of our stupid, ugly thing, or just being plain jealous of someone else and what they have – possessions, looks and life?
Then, in late 2020 in a Mastermind session I had with some other coaches, one of them said that jealousy was just inspiration.
I LOVED THAT!
What if every time I compare myself and I feel jealous, I see it as aspirational and inspirational instead? As a signal that they have something I want and now that I’ve gained that clarity it’s a lot easier to go for it, to create it or to move towards it.
And just like that, it took the sting out of comparison and I actually get a bit of a kick out of it when I feel jealous or when feeling ‘less than’ someone else because the feeling is now useful to me. It’s even more helpful when I take the time to go deeper into that comparison and wonder what it is that I really want. For example, when I long for the wealth of the Hollywood A-listers, I know it’s not actually about the money (have you heard what Jenna Otega’s daily routine was like while shooting Wednesday – I certainly wasn’t jealous of that! And I don’t even think the millions she was paid would have got me interested in following suit). I know that what I’m jealous of is the freedom I believe money would buy me – to work less, for example. I also envy their fabulous holidays. So, what I’ve learned is that I want to work less, relax more and that I like nice holidays. So, I work less and I relax more. I also have less money but I’m still getting what was causing me to feel jealous of the A-listers. And my holidays won’t be as fancy as theirs but I’d rather have my wonderful, budget holidays than have paparazzi following me everywhere – I’m not jealous of that part! I’ve also realised that I’m less inclined to go abroad on holidays the more I love the life I’m creating at home. I now don’t need a break from my life. And if I’m comparing myself to someone whose career and success seem bigger than mine, I now use that as a signal to work more and create more. And if I’m comparing myself to someone prettier or skinnier than me, I know it’s a signal to do the work to improve my self-esteem. I also used to compare myself and get jealous of digital nomads and internationally roaming coaches, until I realised that this was only because of adopting a narrative that wasn’t mine that this was supposed to be a desirable life. But do I really want to always be on the move, to not have a stable, safe and homely base? To constantly have to make new friends and move away from the ones I’d made? No thanks, not for me. So, this comparison and feeling less than others didn’t even belong to me!
And so, here I am, feeling all smug for having cracked the code of comparison and jealousy (for me… You may have a different relationship with it where my logic doesn’t work but this is my journal after all). So, it came as quite a bit of a shock when I discovered I was still comparing myself in a very negative way that had a detrimental impact on my mood.
And the person I was comparing myself to was… me.
While I was pondering where I’d misplaced joy, as I wrote about last month, I walked around with this image in my head that at the start of 2021, I was super productive (which, to be fair, I was – I started a new business, I started a daily blog, I started a coaching community, I wrote two, short e-books, I created a 2-day course for coaches that I delivered for a coaching school, I did a qualification coaching supervision, I started a podcast, I ran a mastermind and I came up with a new coaching model I got to talk about at a summit - and I was happy). Then things got turned upside-down and I moved countries and started a new life, and I was productive in other ways (creating a new home, setting up my business again but under Danish rules and law, making new friends, dating A LOT and enjoying life) but I didn’t feel I was all that productive in terms of my business and I wasn’t as happy as I’d been a year earlier. For months now I’ve carried this narrative in my head that I wasn’t doing as well in early 2023 as I was in early 2021, that I wasn’t as productive, and that I was being lazy and feeling stuck and in a rut. I also compared myself to early 2022 when I was a gym bunny and social butterfly and again I found myself lacking.
I tried so many things to get back into that creative groove. I wasn’t unkind to myself (thank goodness for all the work I put into improving my critical inner chatter and low self-esteem) but I was, however, doing a negative comparison and finding myself wanting, unsure how to step up.
And then, one evening I found myself reading through my old diary. Nearly every day, in early 2021, I write about waking up too late, feeling unmotivated, pushing through to do the bare minimum, and feeling unproductive and tired. In early 2022 I write about skipping the gym and cancelling on nights out.
I was comparing myself to a ghost, a vision, a Fata Morgana!
I am, realistically, doing less work right now than I was in early 2021, but you know what, I’m also living far more peacefully, I’m outside more and I’m in a much healthier place personally. I worked harder back then because it was during lockdown and I had nowhere to go and no one to see and my previous relationship had reached a point where working was a lot more fun than sitting watching Netflix in opposite corners.
The world is open now, and I have a lot of people to see and I loooove watching TV while holding hands with my boyfriend far more than working. And it’s not like I’m not still working and being productive but the output looks different because it’s far more meaningful what I do now. Before I was ‘following the joy’ and pursuing all sorts of projects to find out what I liked and what I didn’t and I started a lot of things and I didn’t follow through with almost as many of those projects.
Today, there are fewer things on my to-do list but they are far more important projects and demand deep work.
Back then, I worked under the principle of: Ready, fire, aim! It was fun and a great exercise to reduce perfectionism. Thanks to the work then, I’m far more ready and able to pick the right projects, but I’m now aiming and I’m taking my time to make these projects - not perfect - but worthwhile, beautiful and something to be proud of and I’ll shoot when I’m goddamn ready and it feels right. Because, why am I in a hurry? I have quite a few decades ahead and I sure don’t want to be bored heading in that direction. Wouldn’t it be boring if I had it all and it was bloody perfect already? What would I do with the next 5+ decades?
A friend recently asked me what my 5-year plan was and once I would have felt silly that I didn’t have one but if life has taught me anything it’s that it’s super pointless to plan for an unpredictable future. Back in 2020, I had great plans for just that year alone and we all know how that turned out! In 2021 I thought I’d live in Scotland for the rest of my life and now look at me. I told her that I have this thing that when I write fiction books, I don’t know the ending. If I know the ending, I stop wanting to write it as I’m already bored (that technique gets very interesting when writing crime books! Who did it?? I don’t know!!) and that’s the same when it comes to my “5-year plan”. If I knew what I was doing in 5 years, I’d probably stop right now and do something else or I know I’d quickly get bored and feel uninspired (neurodivergent brain!).
A friend shared something beautiful in a group I belong to about needing variety versus the need for certainty and the demons of ‘shoulds’ – I should do this, I should be more successful, I should be more productive, I should exercise more, meditate more, I should have a 5-year plan, I should focus more on earning money than having fun and feeling free, I should, I should, I should… Oh, there are so many shoulds we can hurt, haunt and taunt ourselves with, and for me, it’d become the ‘I should be more like my 2021 self’ but, thanks to my diaries, I now recall that she wasn’t actually as happy and productive as I thought. 2021 me was having a lot of fun, trying out a lot of things and achieving a lot but like a diet, it wasn’t a sustainable life, long-term and she still woke up feeling tired, unmotivated, grumpy, fed up and sad.
So, comparison can be the thief of joy – but it’s kind of up to you. It’s your feeling after all, so do with it what you like but why not choose something helpful and hopeful?
On the 1st of each month, I'll write a meandering journal entry about my biggest take-away from the previous month and what I'll add to my own manual of how to human.