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Career: How to Step Out of a Comparison Spiral
I doing enough to get myself out there?
Career 18 Jan 2022

Careers in the creative arts often require you to spend a lot of time online, using social media to present yourself and your work as well for keeping up with what other people are doing. This can take a toll on your well-being, and comparison and self-doubt can creep in – “am I doing enough to get myself out there?” “how come she got that big opportunity when I’ve been working towards it for years?” “if only I had his work-ethic and resources I’d be happy and successful…”

Comparison sucks and ultimately distracts you from your goals and slows your momentum. Trust us, we’ve been there.

To help you get back on the path to your goals, give yourself the credit you deserve, and to find some peace when you’re stuck in a comparison spiral, here are 10 handy hints to get out of than horrible head-space.

What is it that you’re jealous of? Work out what the deeper might reason be

Right, so you’re comparing yourself to Person A because they have just released a new podcast and everyone in your shared network is going nuts about it. Rather than beating yourself up about it – “I don’t have a podcast, I guess I’m doing terribly!” “She’s 3 years younger than me and she’s already achieved this, I’m wasting my life – it’s too late for me!” – check in with yourself about a couple of things:

  • Is the thing they’ve achieved that has triggered your comparison something that you yourself actually want to do? If so, what is stopping you from doing this? It might be that you can’t release a podcast because you don’t have the time, what with your full-time job. Refocus your attention on whether your full-time job is making you happy, and whether it’s time to make a change. Maybe you’re not jealous of Person A for their career achievements, you’re itching to make changes in your own timetable.
  • Is what they have just achieved time-specific? If you would also like to do what they’ve done, does it need to be right away? Factor it into your 5/10/15 year plan. In a month or so, you might decide you don’t want to do it any more anyway. If the issue of age/speed is really affecting you, perhaps the issue you’re facing is with ageing, not with whether your career is worthless because you don’t have a podcast.

Work out who you’re comparing yourself to

Are there a select group of people you find yourself comparing yourself to again and again, and their social media posts celebrating their work successes always bring a sinking feeling to your stomach? Write a list of who these people are, and what qualities of their life you tend to be comparing yourself to. Maybe it’s the fact that Person B just got engaged AND their career is going well, or that Person C has brilliant connections and is always out and about having coffee with someone influential. Knowing what it is about these people that makes you feel bad will remind you what areas of your own career/life you’re finding unsatisfactory. See Tip #1.

Knowing whose content is leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth and making you doubt your own brilliance is helpful to bear in mind when you’re doing your next Insta mass-muting session.

What would make you happy?

Take a moment to think of what happiness would really look like to you? If real happiness means having enough money to go on nice holidays twice a year, or being financially secure enough to only have to work 3 days a week, or getting to spend more time with your family, then do the little career steps that other people are doing, really matter? Do you need to have been given your own office space within the building just like Person D in order to afford what you’d like? Or do you have to have been included on that Ones to Watch list, if ultimately what you’d like to do with your life is have deep meaningful connections with a few select people?

Don’t compare – connect

If you find that you’re comparing yourself to people you’re not already close with (like friends, family, or colleagues) why not take a chance to reach out to them and connect? Ask if they’ll let you ask them some questions over a coffee or Zoom call. Hearing about their experiences will give you some great tips for achieving what you want to achieve, and will also probably remind you that their life isn’t so perfect and their career isn’t as smooth-running and easily-attained as it seems.

Take a break on social media

If you’re finding that you can’t open Instagram / Twitter / LinkedIn without going into a comparison cycle – it’s time to mute and unfollow the key perpetrators of Tip #2. You can also try to limit how often you’re using these sites for per day. Getting some fresh air, meeting a friend, or doing an activity will help to refocus your mind on how great the small pleasures of life are. Repeat after me: your career isn’t your life.

Imagine your party intro

This is a great trick for snapping out of a comparison spiral. Imagine you’ve been invited to a big party, and your friend wants to introduce you to someone they know. How would they introduce you? “This is my friend ______, they’re an incredible _______, they’ve done ________, ________, and ________. Watch out for them, pretty soon they’ll be smashing it in __________!” When you’re feeling down about your career, try to picture just how wonderful you seem to other people. There’s almost definitely people who are comparing themselves to you, too!

“feed the good wolf” / name your critic

There’s a saying that you should “feed the good wolf”. The story goes that there are two wolves in the woods, one who is mean and cruel, and one who is good and kind. The wolf that will survive is the one that is fed. When you are having a negative self-dialogue, decide to not feed those thoughts. Feed the kind thoughts instead.

Another fun tip is to give that negative voice in your head that compares you to other people and puts you down, a name. Ours is called Gladys. “You’re not excelling in your career fast enough” SHUT UP GLADYS.

Record your own achievements

Keep a good record of your work achievements – whether they be tiny or huge – and look at this list/vision board whenever you need a boost.

To do lists with reasonable goal dates

Keep a book with your to-do lists and goals. Colour code or divide the book up to indicate which things you want to achieve NOW, which you might want to look at when you have some more time in the future, and which are goals/actions for a later date. This will help to remind you that you have time to achieve what you want in life, and not to be overwhelmed by a seemingly infinite list of what you “ought” to be doing.

Remember, we are not all the same

Someone else’s achievement doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve the same (or very similar) thing in the future. There isn’t a limited resource of joy or success. Everyone has different backgrounds and circumstances, which mean that some people might be able to get what you want aged 20. Some maybe at 30. Some at 75. Trust that you are working towards what you want, and that you can’t compare yourself like-for-like with anyone else. We like to think of it like we’re in a flower garden – each flower is beautiful, has different needs, a different look, and blooms at different times.

Author: Verity Babbs

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