I was in my first year at the University of Alberta, seated in my introductory computing science class when I was overcome with a wave of dread. My professor was discussing the upcoming deadline for our assignment, which I had yet to start. Throughout the semester, I found it difficult to understand and engage with the material. My classmates, on the other hand, seemed to breeze through the homework and answer the professor’s questions with ease. I stared blankly at my desk as my professor droned on about the assignment requirements.

My thoughts began to race as I shifted my attention to my peers around me: “I bet everyone else has already completed the assignment”. I glanced to my right to see a girl attentively listening to the professor. “I know she has it all together,” I thought to myself. I let out a defeated sigh as class ended, and then headed to office hours immediately afterwards. To my surprise, the girl I had assumed had everything together was outside my professor’s office. After some small talk, she revealed to me that she felt completely lost with the assignment, and felt screwed for the midterm. I realized that the narrative I was telling myself, making assumptions about other people and then comparing myself to them, was unhelpful as well as untrue. 

Comparison is an inevitable part of life. It can be a helpful tool to gauge how we are doing in relation to others, for example, assessing the class average on the midterm, or reading the applicant statistics on the program we’re trying to get into. Simultaneously, comparison can leave us feeling empty, isolated, and low. We may feel like we never measure up, falling short of our peers, friends, family, or the general public. As seen in my case, we may assume we are the only ones struggling and think everyone around us is thriving. 

Thoughts of comparison can center around our academics, careers, appearance, relationships, and more. The ubiquitous nature of comparison can make it difficult to stop. Moreover, comparing ourselves to others has only become easier through the use of social media, where we mainly see the highlight reels of peoples’ days and lives. 

So, you might be wondering, how can we stop comparison if it is so universal? Comparison, in my experience, is impossible to fully prevent. With that said, there are a couple of things I like to remind myself of to reduce harmful comparison and maintain a positive sense of self. I will outline below what I have found to work for me when I find myself engaging too much in the comparison game.

First of all, as cliché as it sounds, I like to remind myself I am my own unique person. Comparing myself to someone else is irrelevant past a certain point because I am not them, and they are not me. As people, we each have distinct experiences, shaped in part by our different values, personalities, abilities, and challenges. When comparing ourselves to others, we may magnify our perceived weaknesses and fail to recognize what strengths we could already be bringing to the table. By taking a more holistic view, and acknowledging the array of qualities we all have, as well as our uniqueness, we can place less importance on comparison. 

Another piece I like to remember is that I am not a mind reader. It is incredibly easy to glance at a person you deem to be attractive, successful, or happy based on external factors and assume they are living life to the fullest. And they very well might be, however, it’s something we don’t know for sure. When comparing ourselves to others we must realize that we will never see the entire picture. As observers, we can only see what others allow us to, and this is crucial to keep in mind when we find ourselves getting caught up in the comparison trap. It is important to recognize that when we are engaging in comparison, we do not have all the information. 

Next, I remind myself there is enough room at the table, meaning there is plenty of opportunity for people to inhabit and thrive in the same space. Someone else may have a specific trait, skill or ability, but that does not detract from our own strengths or leave us with nothing to offer the world. Instead of seeing how we stack up to those around us, we can rather focus on how we may be able to contribute something new and exciting to this shared environment. 

And lastly, if people have qualities you admire, use them as a chance to learn or grow! There have been many times in my life, especially in my academic and professional circles, where I have felt intimidated by those around me. I would compare my background or accomplishments with my impressive peers and colleagues, and feel inadequate next to their experience or achievements. These feelings of inferiority only served to feed my self-doubt and lower my self-esteem. Once I realized I could learn from others, my mindset shifted for the better. I was able to reduce comparison and focus on the traits I admired and respected in others, and work towards realistic ways to echo them. 

Comparison is an easy thing to do, and it can serve us in many helpful ways. With that said, comparison can also strip us of our joy and self-confidence. I hope these tips were useful in establishing a healthy boundary and realistic lens when comparing yourself to others.

Author Bio:
Anna Marosi is a fifth year Biology student at the U of A. She began volunteering for the Peer Support Centre this fall and enjoys running, watching movies, and hanging out with her pets in her free time.