March 3, 2021

Admire and Inspire: Some Thoughts on the Comparison Game

I’m good friends with two very amazing women. We’ll call them Jackie and Jill.

Jackie and Jill are both gorgeous. Stunning, really. On top of their good looks, they’re both really intelligent. Good grades in school and top performers in their current employment. If that weren’t enough, they’re both also really outgoing and have tons of friends. Even though I know they aren’t perfect, because no one is, they sure do have a lot of good stuff going on.

I was recently thinking about the comparison game that we all play – even when we don’t want to play it, even when we’re trying not to play it – and I realized that the way I relate to Jackie is very different than the way I relate to Jill.

With Jackie, I’m always reminding myself not to compare myself to her. I tell myself that comparisons are pointless and fruitless; the only thing comparing ever does is make me feel bad about myself.

And yet with Jill, I don’t need that constant reminder not to get down on myself. I don’t struggle to be happy for her when things go her way. There’s no envy or jealousy…in fact, I sort of look up to her.

There are no external factors that create this difference. Both Jackie and Jill are caring, compassionate people; they don’t flaunt their good looks or brag about their many successes.

The only difference is my attitude, my perspective towards them.

With Jackie, I’m always thinking “compare and despair.” Have you heard that pithy little phrase? It’s useful for remembering that the comparison game is a no-win situation. And yet, as Molly McCord writes in this very insightful blog post another friend sent me, “compare and despair” is an inherently negative thought. It isn’t productive; it’s just a reminder not to be miserable.

The more useful phrase, McCord says, is “admire and inspire.” That’s how I relate to Jill, I think. I don’t compare myself to her in a way that is negative; rather, I appreciate her good qualities in a way that lets them rub off on me a little bit.

Compare and Despair versus Admire and Inspire. There’s a huge difference between those two attitudes, and that difference is compassion. It’s love and light and a willingness to connect with someone for who they are, rather than how you look or feel in comparison to them. It’s an openness to being changed for the better by another person’s positive influence, rather than being sucked dry from a fruitless attempt to ignore your differences.

Admiring and inspiring means that you can appreciate the good in someone else without wanting to change yourself. It means you can look up to someone without tearing yourself down in the process. It means you can focus on ways to feel positive, rather than just trying to avoid feeling negative.

And that, my friends, is how I believe we should be fighting the comparison monster. Not by running away, but by running towards.

Have you ever fallen into the comparison trap? Do you tend to “compare and despair” or “admire and inspire”?

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