About 15 years ago, I underwent my first background investigation for a Top-Secret security clearance. My employer advised me it cost roughly $3500 at that time for my investigation. They required I sign a non-compete agreement stating I would not go to work for one of their competitors for at least a year…or I would be required to pay back the cost of my investigation. We all know the place competition has in our culture. Competition can drive us forward and push us further toward our goals. At the same time, I think competition is the driving force behind comparison. We have long been caught in the comparison trap with one another and unlike competition, it does not seem to be a healthy and productive force.
Women, in particular, are vulnerable to the comparison trap. It seems like it is built into our DNA. Humans have a natural desire for superiority which is healthy and leads to striving. We should aspire to be superior to our past selves, ever striving to learn and move forward in positive ways. However, when we let ourselves fall prey to comparison against others, it causes hurt feelings, insecurity and discontentment in our self-esteem and our relationships with others.
As a mother, when I see another mother do something well, my natural response should be gratitude, kindness, affirmation and expressing appreciation for her capabilities. My mind should not wander to envy, wishing I could parent as well as her; cook as well as her; move seamlessly through my day as well as she appears to do. My mind should not go to comparison. But it does. I do sometimes envy others. I do compare myself to others. I wish I could say I did not. I know though that it is natural. I am not shallow. I am human and I just genuinely want to be the best that I can be.
The key I have recently become more aware of is letting my mind self-correct. When it goes to comparison or anywhere unhealthy or unproductive, I gently forgive myself and push it back in the right direction. I choose to focus on recognizing and appreciating what I can learn from the example set by the other person. We grow when we surround ourselves with people who lift us up and help us strive to be better. So it is an honor and pleasure to spend time around people I think are “better than me.” It is a sign I am hanging around with the right crowd. It is an opportunity for me to learn something.
If we could sign non-compete agreements in our personal relationships and truly honor that commitment, we would hold fast to the joy of racing only against ourselves. We could simply enjoy the presence of the other person. We could divert the energy that might have gone to comparison toward gratitude and that would certainly be a blessing to everyone. It is easier said than done. I will always be a work in progress, but the key is moving forward in the right direction.