Jordon Peterson says as one of his rules for life: “compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today”. It was one of the rules that was included in his work “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. In my personal life, this has been one of the most difficult rules to internalize, and hence has become one of the most important rules for me to abide by.
On the top of one of my monitors I taped the message “Never Compare”. The same message also is written on the top of several of my notebooks. Behind it is the idea that I should not be looking at who I am, or the work I do, in comparison to someone else or another’s labors. Of course, Jordan’s version of it is better said and far more nuanced than my own.
For some reason, I find that this rule is one of the most difficult to follow. Comparison is a useful tool after all. We use comparison for a multitude of useful reasons, including alignment of ourselves. And when we see people who have qualities that we wish to also possess, we use comparison to figure out to what means we might need to achieve the same qualities. Comparison can thusly help us with our goals.
But it is an insidious tool. And the cliff that we can fall from on its usefulness often surprises us. Feet have already begun the fall before we understand that we are even beyond the point of no return.
People we believe to be worth comparison often do not believe in themselves sufficiently either. And that comparison, while made with useful intent, often end up misleading us or making us feel worthless. It is often where this feeling of being an imposter comes from.
Funny enough, one of the things I have learned lately in my 40 years of life is that most of us don’t know what we’re doing most of the time. We’re all imposters.
Freeing, is it not?
As the desire to rebel against this statement builds, before we commit to it, we need to understand it a little more. Don’t think of the small task; think of the larger picture of life. Of art. Of navigating this thing called being a part of this world. Most of us don’t know exactly where we fit; we don’t feel as though we know where we belong; and we are not sure what we really need to do to get there. Sure, we’re confident every so often that so long as we do X, Y, or Z that things will go our way, but often that is proved false and our assumptions are dashed.
While many of us may also display outwardly that we know what we are doing. Some of us lash out when that is questioned, as though we’re afraid that someone is seeing through the façade.
The beauty of how Peterson words the rule is that it turns our focus inward rather than outward. Comparing ourselves to others is tremendously haphazard as virtually no one shares our experiences, or viewpoint, or our habits. The closest person to yourself is you. Who better to make the comparison to?
I wrote 200 words of fiction yesterday. That means if I write 250 words today, that is a positive improvement. It means that I am better than who I was yesterday as a writer. What Stephen King, or James Patterson, or Hugh Howey, or Veronica Roth, or whomever I might feel compelled to compare myself to, wrote is not important at all.
Making incremental changes is the key. Are we better than we were yesterday? If so, then that is the right path. Whether we are better or worse today than another person is immaterial. Positive change within the realm of our own life is all that matters.
It is tough. As we see others as we wish to be, it will be difficult not to look at them in comparison to who we are. We should fight against it. Look inward. It will help us more than we could imagine.