The danger and ease of comparing yourself to others

It’s foolish, comparing apples to oranges.

But the funny thing about the comparison is that it does work on a few levels. Apples and oranges are both fruits, after all. They both have vitamins and minerals. They both grow on trees. They are both breakfast juices.

So you can see why it’s not completely wrong — in fact it’s downright excusable — to be a person who compares apples to oranges, which is exactly the type of person I become whenever my peers do great things.

Take Buffer (an apple) and Slack (an orange), for instance. Whenever I see Slack’s unicorn growth, I immediately wonder, “Why aren’t we growing like they are?”

We are both SaaS companies.

We are both B2B.

We both think customer-first, and we act on metrics like NPS.

But then think of the differences: Slack has raised $200 million and is in the midst of raising $500 million more; we’ve raised less than $10 million. Slack built a commodity tool for team communication, whereas we are a niche product for social media marketers. Slack has a sales team, we don’t. Slack has 700 employees, we have 70.

It’s apples to oranges. It’s elephants to egrets.

There’s no way to compare the two companies.

And yet … I do.

My problem is multifarious: I first compare out of jealousy, then I compare out of insecurity. Neither are great reasons to compare myself to others, but well, the reasons exist. My aim is not to exterminate them but to understand them and then shoo them out the door as soon as I can.

These are the two primary reminders that have helped me work through jealousy and insecurity.

1. In order to have what others have, I need to consider what they did to get there

I recently learned of a company in our industry that is on pace for 160 percent year-over-year growth. Wow. We had a year of 80 percent growth recently, and it felt like some sort of high-life, Great-Gatsby era of caviar and dreams. Can you even imagine 160 percent growth?

Well, I tried to imagine! And wouldn’t you know, it made me quite jealous.

I was jealous because I wanted that growth for Buffer. I experienced a “challenge accepted!” moment where I vowed to put Buffer on that trajectory.

Then I calmed down and reminded myself: I’m comparing apples to oranges.

Not only that, but I’m comparing apples to oranges without knowing the full story of the orange. See, the thing about wanting what others have is that you also have to accept the costs of what it took to get there. And so often, we don’t know what it took.

For example, I was once jealous of someone who got a job at Uber. Welp! I wasn’t jealous a couple months back when Uber’s bro crisis came to a head and people resigned.

Turns out, I know a fair share about the 160-percent growth company, both lots of very good things and several things that aren’t for me, like: Their team changes direction every few months, they don’t have growth figured out, their employees must track their time, people leave, expectations are REAL, etc.

These are all reasons not to be jealous. Moreso, they are reasons to be grateful that I am where I am.

Have I ever stopped to think that people might compare themselves to me? To Buffer?

There’s this interesting story from Derek Sivers, retold by Tim Ferris in the book Tools for Titans. (For the record, I am jealous of both men: Tim Ferriss I have come to terms with because I know the sacrifices he has made to his time, relationships, and personal life that I wouldn’t have been willing to make. Derek Sivers I simply adore and can’t find any fault with; I want to be him.)

Tim:

“When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person that comes to mind?”

Derek:

“… The first would be Richard Branson, but …

“What if Richard Branson set out to live a quiet life, but like a compulsive gambler, he just can’t stop creating companies? Then that changes everything, and we can’t call him successful anymore.”

2. There’s room in this world for all of us to be successful

When I see an opportunity to compare myself, after the jealousy passes, the next feeling that pops to mind is one of grand inquisition: If that person is doing xyz, then what am I doing wrong?

Nothing. Well, maybe something. (Spoken like a true impostor.) The point is, this doesn’t have to be the question. It shouldn’t be the question.

This question is irrelevant. When a friend tells me that a fellow company is doing great, it’s not because this friend wanted to send me a discreet, implicit message that I’m failing at my job. People don’t think about me as often as I think they do!

Of course, I think about me all the time, especially in these instances. My self-preservation kicks in, and I go on the hunt for ways that I can improve in order to a) avoid constructive feedback by getting ahead of it and b) to actually improve myself. Seeing others with bigger numbers, different jobs, other perks, more influence: it all becomes a mirror that I use to view myself.

And it doesn’t have to be.

 

Do you compare yourself to others?

I’ve shared a few of my self-doubts and a few ways I battle them. Do you have any tips for when you’re tempted to compare? I’d love to hear what you think.

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I lead the marketing team at Buffer, a SaaS tool with a blog of over 1.2M monthly visits. Let me show you how we got there and how we plan to grow.

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