I’m a big "comparer"… by which I mean, I compare myself to other people. I also compare myself to myself, in the past. And anything else I can find to compare myself to, I often do.
The other day, I was interviewing a fellow speaker, who has a rather harrowing life story that they tell in their keynote speeches. I mentioned feeling that my stories — and I think many people feel like this — weren’t as "big" as theirs.
And they gave me some useful advice.
For me, this tendency for comparison I have makes it feel like my stories aren’t "worth it." That I shouldn’t be complaining or even mentioning my stories or problems because they are so insignificant when compared to others.
I’ve also been getting this feeling with the question of mental health recently. I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental health issue (though I do see a counselor/therapist). Even so, I think it’s likely that I have some things… social anxiety being the most clear. I’m also, it turns out, a definite "pessimist" (according to the test in the book Learned Optimism by "father of positive psychology" Martin Seligman), which has some links with the potential for depression, apparently.
But I read about others with clear mental health problems.
And I talk to my friends who have been diagnosed and hear their stories.
And I think "Well, I’m probably not justified in saying that I have any mental health issues."
Because I don’t get heart palpitations when my social anxiety rears it’s head. I don’t get dizzy or sick.
I "just" get myself into a mental spiral where I worry again and again what people think of me. My brain searches everything I said at the previous day’s social situation, searching for something that I can beat myself up about. Then, when it finds something, my brain blows that one thing up in intensity by 500% until I feel like I committed a social crime as terrible as killing the party host’s cat by feeding it rat poison instead of cat food…
… when in reality, all I did was phrase one sentence in one conversation slightly awkwardly, so there’s a tiny chance that someone could have misinterpreted it… even though I have no evidence that they did actually misinterpret it.
But, I tell myself, other people have worse experiences.
Some people are so stricken by their anxiety, depression, OCD, or whatever else they have that they literally can’t get out of bed for weeks on end.
So clearly, I tell myself, my struggles aren’t worth even thinking about.
I should just shut up and stop complaining.
I am "not worthy" of talking about the struggles I have in life when there are other people out there having much harder times than me.
This fellow speaker I was interviewing the other day had a very useful perspective when I mentioned that my stories weren’t as "bad" as theirs.
They said, very calmly: "Well, it’s not a competition."
It’s not a competition, is it!
I don’t think of myself as a competitive person. I have never enjoyed competitive sports and I don’t mind if I win or lose a board game (my sister was the one who "Had to win!!" in our house as a kid).
But I do obsessively compare myself to people, which is something that I have been working on reducing for years.
It’s not a competition.
We are all just people trying to live our lives in the best way possible.
We can all learn from each other. No matter what our specific perspective, it can be valuable to someone.
We’re not competing with each other by adding similar stories to the mix — ones with different levels of intensity and viewpoints.
We’re just adding richness to that mix.
Now if somebody could please tell my brain that, I’d really appreciate it.