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Out There: Don’t Get Caught In The Comparison Trap

Comparing yourself to others is never a good thing, writes Susan Lacke.

Comparing yourself to others is never a good thing, writes Susan Lacke.

I first got sucked into the comparison trap in elementary school.

One day during second grade, my classmates found a copy of a teacher roster, which listed the first names of our educators. Contrary to what we assumed, our female teachers were not all named “Mrs.” They had first names of their own: Joyce, Barbara and Susan. There were lots of Susans. “Susan’s an old-lady name,” my classmates jeered. Those classmates, of course, were all named Jennifer or Tiffany.

I so wanted to be a Jennifer or a Tiffany.

You’d think, at 31 years of age, I’d have figured out how to sidestep the comparison trap. Yet here I am, tangled up in the snares and gins of “not good enough” and “not fair.” Only this time, instead of wishing my name was Jennifer or Tiffany, I’m Googling the race results of the Jennifers and Tiffanys of my age group.

Sure, comparison is normal—even healthy. Evaluating ourselves in relation to others sets a standard for which to strive and the motivation to get there.

But sometimes—OK, most times—comparing yourself to others just makes you feel like crap.

And oh, boy … do I feel like crap.

My latest foray into the comparison trap started innocently enough—after finishing a half marathon last weekend, I hopped online to see how I did in relation to others in my age group. Disappointed to see I hadn’t done as well as I hoped, I scanned the list of finishers for familiar names. Hours later, I looked up at the clock and realized I had spent the better part of two hours reading the blog posts of friends and strangers alike, looking for what they had that I didn’t.

You read that right—I was comparing myself to people I didn’t even know.

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I read some blogs and thought to myself, “why can’t I be that skinny?” I’d click over to another’s Twitter profile and kick myself for not running faster during my speed workouts. I’d click through yet another Facebook page and yell at myself for not running as many miles, or for eating that cupcake the week before the race, or for not being able to afford nicer running clothes. And then I yelled at myself for yelling at myself, because These women aren’t a hot mess like you are, Susan, and that’s why they’re better than you.

I slammed my laptop shut. I had read enough. I had the whole story, and it ended with me firmly in the snares of the comparison trap.

Except … I didn’t have the whole story. Not even close.

While I was feeling jealous and dissatisfied about life in comparison to others, I forgot that I was only getting a tiny sliver of the big picture. Everything I was reading—blogs, Facebook and Twitter—was a carefully constructed snapshot, taken and re-taken, then photoshopped until it was in the best possible form for staging.

What people present to the outside world is usually an edited version of reality. No one tells the whole story. It’s not fair to compare your behind-the-scenes footage to someone else’s highlight reel.

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Sure, I’m not perfect, but I’d bet my next paycheck Jennifer and Tiffany aren’t, either. Perfection is overrated, anyway.

Besides, I’m not a Jennifer or a Tiffany. When I take a second to shut the laptop and stop comparison shopping for someone else’s life, I realize that I like not being a Jennifer or a Tiffany. I like being me.

Even with my old-lady name and race-week cupcake.

Especially with my old-lady name and race-week cupcake.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke