The ability to see at any one time what hundreds or even thousands of our friends and colleagues are up to on social media is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, how amazing is it that we can all be connected in this way? Imagine navigating lockdown without being able to keep in touch with people online, attend webinars, share resources and so on. On the other hand, it’s very easy to set off a bout of comparison-itis, where we start to compare ourselves unfavourably with other people.
Maybe you see that they’re getting work when you have lost yours, or they are in a happy relationship, when yours has broken down, or they have more freedom, or more money, or more youth than you do. Being inspired by what others are up to is great, but when comparing yourself with others leaves you feeling drained, or resentful then it’s comparison-itis.
When the people you’re seeing actually are your competitors in some ways- e.g. they also write ELT materials for the same market, or they also teach students online, it can lead to a real breakdown in confidence, and even an unwillingness to post about your own work, for fear of being found wanting.
To what extent is it really about the other person?
Perhaps the first thing to say, on a practical level, is that a) these people have probably been through what you’re experiencing themselves, and maybe even still feel that way and b) you have no way of knowing what the reality of their situation is. It’s often said that no-one really knows what goes on in a marriage, and, in the same way, what we see online might well be a rosy version presented to the public.
However, ultimately comparison-itis is never really about what the other people are doing or having, anyway. It’s always about us. It comes from our own fear that we are not good enough, and we have simply found a handy person to project this onto.
For many people it’s a favourite game of their inner troll, because comparison-itis is a really effective way of taking the insecurities that we all have at times and blowing them up really nice and big and shiny. It encourages us to completely forget our own blessings and focus only on what we feel we don’t have.
If you’re aware of getting pulled into the trap of comparison-itis, DO NOT start giving yourself a hard time about what a dreadful person this makes you. Human beings are hard-wired to compete and compare, and it’s perfectly natural.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to make you happy though.
How to deal with a bout of comparison-itis
So, if you become aware of it, consciously tell yourself that whatever you think you know about this person and how much better they have things, you actually don’t know, and this really has nothing to do with them anyway.
Someone else’s success is not your failure. It really doesn’t work that way.
Then spend some time looking after the part of yourself that is feeling insecure. Make a list of everything you’ve got going for you- or ask someone who loves you, if you can’t manage it. Not in comparison with anyone else, but simply on your own merits. Focus on being really grateful for who you are and what you have. You are unique and you have your own gifts to bring to the world.
But also, if you believe that the other person has qualities or abilities that you don’t have, that may well be an indication that you DO have them, you just aren’t allowing them to flourish. This may not be the case if you’re comparing your ability to dance with Shakira, let’s say, but a lot of them time it is. You compare someone else’s confidence with yours for example, and don’t recognise that you also have the choice to build confidence.
So stop listening to your troll, who is trying to tie you up in knots, remember that you are you, focus on all the wonderful things about that, and let other people get on with being them.