“Frequent social comparisons may, in the short-term, provide reassurance. But in the long-term they may reinforce a need to judge the self against external standards.” Judith White, Ph.D.
It starts early, the comparison trap. You are on top one minute and are on the bottom the next. You are the shortest kid in your class; the tallest; the kid struggling most with math; the player who hasn’t made a basket in any game, on and on and on! Teenage years come and you KNOW what kind of judgment we place on ourselves. Fast forward to the world of work and it continues to ramp up. The fastest route to career discontent is the game of comparison. This tendency to compare ourselves to others is called social comparison, and it is a natural way for us to evaluate how we are doing. Unfortunately, it can be quite destructive, make you feel dissatisfied and maybe even sabotage your career!
I currently have a client who is struggling with this issue, and it has almost derailed her career. We are going to call her Marti. Marti came to me for career rehabbing because her sister saw the self-sabotaging path she was taking. She was consistently complaining to her boss that she hadn’t received a raise, a promotion or a conference speaking opportunity like a colleague had. Her boss was getting a negative impression of her. Now don’t misunderstand me, I consistently prod clients to advocate those very things. However, Marti did not have the evidence needed to self-advocate for any of those. All Marti could see was she was BEHIND her work friend. As we began to explore, I was to learn the colleague had been at the company longer, with stellar performance reviews, she had far more experience in the industry, and she consistently worked 60 hours a week!
The first insight Marti had was she has a family history of intense comparisons. Her parents had consistently compared Marti to her siblings: academically, socially, and physically. She began to realize how automatic this response was for her. Together we began the process of self-career definition, evaluation, and development.
If you are a coaching client of mine, have attended a keynote I have presented, have participated in a training of mine, or just read my articles, you have likely heard me use the phrase, “This is your game, and you get to play it any way you like!” Not only in your career, but the game of life is more satisfying playing by your rules. The first step for Marti was to remember a couple of important rules of HER game.
- She had taken a year off between high school and college. As a result, in comparison to her friend, she would always be somewhat behind time wise. This was set in stone, there was nothing Marti could do about this. It had been the smart thing for her to do, as she just wasn’t ready socially or academically for college.
- It had taken her six years to graduate because of changing her major twice and she had worked full-time to afford her schooling. Once again, in comparison to her friend, she was behind. Marti was quick to affirm her final choice of a major was what was right for her. Plus, working was necessary to augment her financial package. She said the skills she learned while working were essential to the success of her college career.
- Marti acknowledged she had health issues that made extremely long hours not wise for her. She also commented that her buddy was having health problems because of the struggle for work/life balance.
What about you? Have you slipped into the comparison game and come up short? Are you feeling very dissatisfied with your career as a result? Are you making a position that you could possibly love a miserable one because you are playing by some else’s rules? You are unique, you and only you can determine how a successful career is defined. Using standard rules of the game will likely result in a sub-standard career!
Are you perplexed by both how you got to this career dilemma and even more perplexed as to how you are going to get out? Don’t resign yourself to being in a career that is not satisfying. Remember, we work an average of 55,000 hours in the average career, that’s a great deal of misery if you are in comparison mode. Time for a chat? High-Heeled Success offers 45-minute complimentary telephone consulting, email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call (513) 561-4288 to set a time to see how you can get out of the comparison game and into loving your career.