I never had comparison shame until I moved to Los Angeles.
My home town is definitely a melting pot, but everyone there is more or less on the same page, so when I found myself bumping elbows with Arnold Schwarzenegger at brunch (a thing that has actually happened to me in LA), you start to contemplate where you are in life and if it’s really good enough.
I don’t know a single person, myself included, who hasn’t had the experience of scrolling through social media and wondering, “Am I…behind? Why don’t I have the perfect career, or the super hot spouse, the bikini body, or the snuggly baby in an Anthropologie-worthy nursery yet? What do they know that I don’t?”
“Who are these shiny, happy people, and why am I such a hot mess?”
Anyone would feel awkward in my their own skin when surrounded by beautiful, rich, movie star people, but my comparison shame was amped up big time when I started my business. Part of it was that for the first time, I had a job doing something I deeply cared about, so I was extremely attached to the outcome, and part of it was that I had no clue what I was doing at first. And my favorite pattern when I have no clue what I’m doing is to look around, see what everyone else is doing, figure out who I’m “supposed to” be, and adjust myself accordingly.
Recently, in the span of about 24 hours, I learned exactly why this particular pattern sucks, and what I needed to shift if I ever wanted to feel confident. Lucky for you, I’ve broken down into a few steps. You’re welcome.
At the top of the 24 hour period that forever changed the way I think about comparison, I made friends with another lady entrepreneur, and I immediately developed a girl crush. This chick was insightful, intuitive, and just plain fun, and she was doing cool things in her career that I’d never even dreamed of. I was thrilled with my new friend…until I made the mistake of following her on Instagram.
Her feed was literally filled with professional photos of her wandering around London looking like a freaking model. I can barely manage to take a selfie with my whole head in the frame. As I scrolled, I felt my face get warm. Because I didn’t have professional photos taken in vintage heels in a European city, my mind helpfully suggested the following story:
"All serious girl bosses have fancy photos. This is what makes them successful. Because you do not have fancy photos, your career is doomed to fail and you will likely end up on the street, living in a cardboard box."
Thanks, brain! Not.
Feeling sorry for myself and worried about the future, I put Instagram away and tried to get some work done, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should somehow fix myself to fit into this story of what a good career lady should be. Later that afternoon, I packed up my laptop and headed out to a study date with another coach friend. We went to the same coaching school, graduated around the same time, and met up occasionally to plan world domination and the destruction of the patriarchy while drinking hot chocolate.
As I sat down next to her, my mood was immediately lifted. “I’m still struggling to find my fit,” she confessed. “I can’t find a direction, and I haven’t published a blog post in ages! I’m totally failing at this business thing.” In addition to feeling compassion for my friend, I felt a strange sense of…superiority. If she couldn’t manage to write regularly, well…I had that piece covered! I may not have professional photos, but at least I’m consistent. At which point, my mind popped in with a different comparison story:
"You are doing better than she is. In fact, you are amazing! Look at what a great work ethic you have! It’s a competitive world out there, and you are not at the bottom of the totem pole. Actually, you are awesome, and your career will be very successful. Great job!"
I paused in my ego tripping for a moment and sat with the weird ickiness bubbling up in my stomach. I had whiplash from shifting so quickly from complete inadequacy to smug superiority. How is it even possible to to go from “not good enough” to “better than” in a matter of hours?
And then it dawned on me. Oh. Comparison shame works both ways.
When you compare yourself to others, you are setting the bar for your self worth on external sources, and in doing so, giving your power away.
In addition to feeling “behind” when I got triggered by someone else’s social media photos, I also got to enjoy the ego boost of feeling “ahead” when I encountered someone not “up to my level.”
Gross. The worst part was that my feelings of inferiority or superiority weren’t actually real. The reality was that I was letting other people’s successes or failures set the bar for my confidence level.
By leaning into comparison instead of my own inner truth, I willingly gave up the agency of my own feelings and decided to let other people dictate how I felt about my own career progress. No wonder I had such wildly fluctuating self-esteem! I wasn’t actually a hot mess-I just needed to get my confidence from an internal source, rather than an external one!
I’ve experimented with this idea for a while, and here are my favorite ways to move from outer authority to inner authority and stop comparison shame in its tracks:
Stop Making Everything About You.
Seriously. It’s highly likely that you will never completely stop noticing the behavior of other humans around you. And we don’t want you to—that’s sociopath behavior. What we do want is for you to be able to separate reality from the unhelpful stories your brain makes up about it.
There’s a huge leap between, “Wow, my new friend took some really beautiful photos” and “this means I am a failure and complete tire fire of a person.”
See the difference? Her photos-not actually about me. Who knew? Let the great photos be about her and let the great things you are doing be about you. Or even create an empowering story, like, “Wow! My new friend is beautiful! I can’t wait to ask all her secrets!” If a story makes you feel like crap about yourself, change it.
Let Comparison Be Your Compass.
When you find yourself caught up in the swirling vortex of comparison shame, pause. Instead of creating a story about it or judging yourself, get curious. What are your comparison triggers? For example, I used to get extremely jealous and down on myself when I saw women wearing colorful clothing to work.
The fact that a shirt or pair of shoes could send me spinning out seemed strange at the time, but now I know that that particular job was completely at odds with my authenticity and the impact I’m meant to make. Underneath my comparison shame and jealously was a woman who was sick of wearing black polyester pantsuits—and pretending to be someone else at work. If I had investigated my comparison shame and used it for good, I might have come to that realization way sooner.
What are your top three comparison triggers? Hint: these are clues to what you really want.
Based on these clues, what in your life might need a tune up or some attention?
Get a new measuring stick.
Society has quite a bit to say about what is and isn’t good enough, and I have certainly picked up several lame stories from external sources. I used to feel incredibly guilty about not working the traditional 40-hour work week schedule.
I had convinced myself that anything else was somehow bad, but when I tapped into my inner authority, I realized that I get to define how much work is enough, regardless of whether I start at 8AM or 11AM.
The point is, you get to create your own version of “good enough” that doesn’t include the measuring stick of other people’s values, and your inner authority measuring stick can include anything you want. When you separate what's true for you from what everyone else is doing, what does truly “good enough” look like in your life? It’s completely okay to give yourself permission to let go of other people's "good enough" and realign with what’s important to you, regardless of what people on Facebook are doing.
Moving through comparison shame and creating self-worth based on inner authority is an ongoing practice, but it’s an important one if you plan to create authentically and make the difference you were born for.
Your truest impact will never come from a place of external blessing or approval. It will come from the voice of your inner wise woman. It may take a while to hear her, but her voice won’t bend or break under external scrutiny or other people’s vacation photos.