Stop comparing yourself to others

Yesterday, I saw an article about a book a 17 year old is writing. It’s about education. He’s proposing a completely new system to education including getting rid of the standardized tests like the SAT. I think it’s great, we need more awareness that the current state of education sucks.

And then I wonder why I’m not writing a book. I should be doing that. I’m three years older than Nikhil is and I have the same goal that he does: positively change education.

So I tell myself that I’m going to write a book. I tell myself that I’m starting today. I don’t know anything about the process it takes to write a book, so I do some research. Writing a book is going to be harder than I thought. I don’t have time to write a couple hours every day; I’m a university student and I need to learn how to parse inputs using regular expressions by tomorrow. My motivation starts to waver.

But I don’t really want to quit, it’s only been a day. So I try to come up with a chapter outline. After coming up with three chapters, I realize I can’t do it. I don’t know, or have enough time to learn, how the education bureaucracy works. My ideas for changing education also aren’t developed enough yet. I’d only be able to offer criticisms to the current system and not be able to offer complete and viable solutions. And we already have many of those books out there. It wouldn’t be that useful. I should only write a book on education when I can think of a good alternative to what we’re doing now.

And then I wonder why I wanted to write a book in the first place. I hadn’t even thought of writing one until I saw the Forbes article.

I realize that I was jealous of Nikhil. Being a university student isn’t good enough. I need to be successful. If a guy three years younger than me can write a book to “save the education system”, then surely I could as well. But then I feel bad because I realize that I can’t write this book. Not at this moment. I feel bad because I’m not as successful as Nikhil is.

But I shouldn’t. I don’t define my success and self worth relative to other people. No one should.

One of my friends told me that she would always rank how pretty she was compared to the other girls in her grade. She said she’d always be around 5th, but it would make her mad because she wasn’t 1st. But she’s beautiful. This friend also told me that she would rank her math talent based on what people scored in class. There were only four people in her math class and she’d sometimes get the lowest score in the class by a few points, so she would think that she wasn’t great at math. But she’s brilliant.

It’s natural to compare things, but instead of comparing yourself with others, compare yourself with yourself. Are you better than you were the day before? Can you solve the math problems you think you should be able to? Are you where you want yourself to be? Focus on self improvement and not comparison. Be happy with where you stand in life and be happy for people who are successful. Define success for yourself and not relative to other people. You can only control what you do. By focusing on self improvement, you get closer to where you want to be.

I’m happy for Nikhil. I hope his vision can help positively impact education. I hope that more people will come out and think of new ways to positively impact education, our education system really needs it. I have to put my book on hold, but that’s okay. I’m not ready to write it. I still have a lot to learn about education.

I don’t need to compare myself to other people to evaluate where I stand. I know where I stand. So I’ll work on improving myself; learning new things, being a better person, staying healthy, doing good work. When I’m ready to write the book, I’ll know. And my motivation for writing it won’t be because someone else was successful writing a book on education; it’ll be because I want to positively impact education.

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6 Comments

Filed under Finding Yourself, Fulfillment, Self Improvement

6 responses to “Stop comparing yourself to others

  1. Really good article, and very true. I’ve always compared myself to others, even when I recognize what I’m doing and know I shouldn’t. This leads to not only low self-esteem, but also, at least for me, a sense of “deadline”. You always have to beat the clock, because others are ahead. And then you just do so much you get burned out, and give up. And this goes back to your other article “Be the best you”; don’t do something in response to others, do it for you.

  2. bzprules

    I agree completely. I used to always try to compare myself to others in a similar sense; whenever I saw someone that did well at a math competition, or really just anything, I tried to analyze them and compare myself to them. I would think, “This person seems good/bad/threatening”, and I would constantly try to outdo others simply for the sake of outdoing them (of course, people tended not to see this of me). Sometimes I’d even strategize methods for winning (I remember even keeping a chart my freshman year to see if I’d end up winning the Squirty Chicken Award for MAO, which is essentially the top performer for the season).

    But last year I realized how stressful it was, and how completely useless and unproductive that kind of thinking got me. Thinking back on it, I would sometimes get depressed about how bad I was compared other people, especially people on AoPS (which I had just joined the summer before 10th grade); I’d stress myself out trying to outdo others and get high scores on all of the math competitions (among other things), working without any real purpose and as a result not actually learning at a deep level. All of it got to such an intensity that I just couldn’t take it anymore; I had to reject that method of thinking.

    It’s a good thing I stopped trying to evaluate myself relative to others, and instead started evaluating myself in an absolute sense. After realizing that the key was improving myself for just the sake of improving, not for the sake of beating others, I started enjoying life more. There was less stress, less depression, and so many things are more fun now than they ever were. I’ve made a ton of friends that before I would’ve regarded as rivals.

    I’m a lot happier than I used to be, and I’m glad for that.

    • I see this happening a lot in my classes, and many of my friends have this mindset. When they see other people who are smart, they’re viewed as “my competition”. But why do they have to be competition? Why not be friends? You don’t have to beat him, you can grow with the other person. Learn with the other person. In the end, both of you benefit. What the other person knows doesn’t directly affect you, you can only do as much as you know.

      By suppressing others as competition, you’re put into the mindset that you only need to be better than the next guy. And then you’re not learning as much as you can, you’re not doing the best that you can do. You’re just doing enough to get by and that’s not a good mindset to live by.

  3. el-azab

    Definitely a mindset I need to try harder to get into. This was a nice read.

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