It’s the single piece of advice I give most often. After hearing my girlfriend’s speech on self-comparison and individuality, her use of a line from Max Erhman’s Desiderata resonated with me:
If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain or bitter. For always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
This line could never be more true in our day and age.
But it’s also where it’s wrong.
Now, more than ever, American society cares solely about what you can provide for them. That’s all fine and dandy, it’s how we’ve lived for decades. But it’s also a reality that has never really been admitted.
You might be a great person. You might be skilled at at many things. But your knowing Icelandic won’t help me get more sales. Your high score in PacMan won’t treat cancer patients. Your excellence in school won’t help you lead a military.
Yes, you are yourself with your own skills and nuances. And yes, you should compare your own growth to your life and experiences to determine the best path for growth.
But out there, you have to conform to the criteria of your boss, your judges, your customers and suppliers. You have to live for not just yourself, but also for your friends, your family, your significant other–and each and every single person expects something different and compares you to their criteria.
Despite our cultural single-mindedness about comparing ourselves only to ourselves. If we learn to compare ourselves on the scales of others in a constructive way, we can learn to better serve ourselves and our community.
Question is, how can we do this? The first thing to learn is to open the channels of communication: to learn what’s expected of us, all we have to do is ask. At work, the criteria for performance reviews is a good source of information. At home, a conversation with friends and family may be the best way to approach this.
With the information in hand, we can start the comparison process. We can take what they want and what we know about ourselves and begin the process of working. Notice, we’re not comparing our core values. We’re comparing our skills. Don’t look at how you behave or how cool or how rich of how healthy these other people are. That’s not the point.
The point, once again, is that we have to look at what’s expected of us on their scale to earn a better name for ourselves.
We must, however, never compromise our values and learn when to stop. Too much of a good thing is unhealthy, after all.