Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to someone else today, is what Jordan Peterson asks us to do in Rule 4 of his book 12 Rules for Life. If you are evaluating your worth by comparing yourself to others, you will always be losing because in this game called life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in every way. To avoid becoming jealous, bitter, and resentful, it would be best to start comparing yourself to who you were yesterday and not to someone else today.
Why you should start comparing yourselves to who you were yesterday
We are not equal in ability and outcome, and never will be. No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is always going to be someone who will be more successful than you, prettier than you, fitter than you. There are always going to be people better than you. We should recognize this and accept it, without falling into the nihilistic trap of saying to ourselves “What’s the point of getting out of bed then?”
Some people may argue that comparing ourselves to others is something we should do in order to make a more accurate evaluation of ourselves. Fair enough, using someone who achieved more than you as a point of reference is a good idea but if you focus on the angle “this person has it all and I haven’t got anything” that’s not a good way to look at things and it may cost you dearly. Comparison can be a valuable source of motivation and growth, but it can also bring with it a frenzy of self-doubt.
“Comparison is the death of joy” — Mark Twain.
Before social media we were comparing ourselves to people close to us, our siblings, family members, school friends, colleagues, and in this context, we had a fair chance to come up on top. Nowadays we compare ourselves to several billions of people around the world; in this context, our chance of coming on top is pretty slim. Using others as a benchmark to evaluate our own self-worth is filled with downside and pitfalls and could lead you straight to Unpleasant Ville walking alongside the path of Misery.
There are two ways you can compare yourself to someone else, upwards or downward. Studies have found that upward comparison i.e., comparing ourselves to those more fortunate than us, to the rich and famous breeds feelings of envy, low self-confidence, and depression. Downward comparison, i.e., comparing ourselves to those less fortunate, can provide some benefits to one sense of self; but this form of comparison comes at a price. It requires that we take pleasure in someone else’s failures or misfortune in order to feel adequate, which can lead to mean-spirited competitiveness.
Learning from others is what should motivate us to be the best version of ourselves. We should use other people’s success as a motivator and not a downer. Remember, life is a game, learning from other people’s successes and failures will teach you how to play that game; but first you must understand that there are many good games to play, not just one.
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday and start playing your own game
Jordan Peterson teaches us in Rule 4 of his book 12 Rules for Life that every activity, once chosen, comes with its own internal standards of accomplishment. If something can be done at all, it can be done better or worse. Every game comes with its chance of success or failure.
Those words “success and failure” are very black and white. You are either a success, a comprehensive, overall good thing, or its opposite, a failure, a comprehensive, irredeemably bad thing. The words simply provides no alternative, no middle ground, and no shades of grey.
Remember, there is not just one game at which to succeed or fail. There are many games, and more specifically many good games — games that match your talents, involve you productively with other people and sustain and even improve themselves across time. Engineer is a good game, so is plumber, physician, carpenter, or schoolteacher. The world allows for many ways of Being. If you don’t succeed at one, you can try another. You can pick something better matched to your unique mix of strengths, weaknesses, and situations. Furthermore, if changing games doesn’t work, you can invent a brand-new game and try to get people to come and play with you. You might come to realize that the specifics of the many games you are playing are so unique to you, so individual, that comparison to others is simply inappropriate.
And don’t forget that you are not playing just one game you are playing multiple games. You have a career, friends and family, personal projects, artistic endeavors, and athletic pursuits. You might consider judging your success across all the games you play. Imagine that you are very good at some, middling at others, and terrible at the remainder. Perhaps, that’s how it should be. You may think you should be winning at everything. But winning at everything might only mean that you’re not doing anything new or difficult. You might be winning but not growing and growing might be the most important form of winning.
When we are very young, we are neither individual nor informed. We have not had the time nor gained the wisdom to develop our own standards. In consequence, we must compare ourselves to others, because standards are necessary. Without them, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. As we mature, we become, by contrast, increasingly individual and unique. The conditions of our lives become more and more personal and less and less comparable with those of others.
Symbolically speaking, we must leave the house ruled by our father and confront the chaos of our individual Being. Who are you? You think you know, but maybe you don’t. You are interested in some things and not others. Some activities will always engage you, and others simply will not. How hard can you force yourself to work and sustain the effort required in any worthwhile endeavor? What is it that you genuinely love? What is it that you genuinely want?
You are nested in a network of social obligations, for sure you should live up to those obligations. But this does not mean you must take the role of a lapdog, obedient and harmless. That’s how the dictator wants his slaves. Dare instead to articulate yourself and express what would really justify your life.
So next time you catch yourself using someone else as a benchmark for your own worth, stop and remind yourself how ineffective this strategy really is. Instead, compassionately redirect your energy and attention to your own goals and what is required to achieve them. And don’t forget that the only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were yesterday.
And this my dear friend, is your Quest.
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