Three monks sat by a lake, deep in meditation.
One stood up and said, “I’ve forgotten my mat.” Stepping on to the waters before him, he walked across the water to the other side, and went into their small hut. When he came back, the second monk said, “I just remembered I need to put my clothes to dry in the sun’ And he too calmly walked across the water to the other bank and returned in a few minutes the same way.
The third monk was watching them incredulously. Finally, he declared, “There’s nothing to it, watch!’ and rushed to the edge of the lake. No sooner did he put his foot in than he fell into waist-high water.
Determined to prove he was just as good as the other two monks, he waded out and tried again. And again and again. After watching for a while in silence, one of his fellow monks asked the other, “Do you suppose we should tell him where the stepping stones are?”
It’s easy to look at other people and imagine that they are effortlessly succeeding where we are failing- but usually all that’s happening is that they know where the stepping stones are.
A mixed blessing
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 comparisonitis, 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 comparisonitis.
How to avoid getting drawn into comparisonitis
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.
However, ultimately it is never about what the other people are doing or having, comparisonitis is 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 it’s really good at 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 comparisonitis, 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.
So, if you feeling it creeping up, 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 really are unique and you have your own gifts to bring to the world.