Comparison is the Thief of Joy – Theodore Roosevelt
We live in a highly connected and interactive yet paradoxically isolating age, even without the presence of a pandemic. One can easily interact with a range of people in the same town and across the world privately and anonymously. It’s also a time when one misjudged and ill-informed move on social media can have devastating results both for your career and your personal reputation.
Social media encourages us to develop multiple social and professional profiles, amass countless “friends”, and send and receive electronic validation in the form of likes, endorsements, and number of views and followers. The speed and ease with which we can access information may sound good, but what if that information makes you feel worse about yourself and/or your career? For example, while trolling updates on Facebook, you saw some friends on a voluntourism trip where they helped build a school in an underprivileged country. On LinkedIn you saw your roommate from college land a job at a Fortune 500 company. On Instagram, someone you know had backstage passes and met your favourite music group. On YouTube, your friend posted a video drinking cranberry juice that went viral.
Although social media isn’t the only avenue that facilitates opportunities for comparison, it is a prominent one. Upon listening to or seeing the things others have accomplished, you begin to experience major FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Even worse, you compare your life and career to a moment in time of a close friend, family member, colleague, an acquaintance of an acquaintance, or even a complete stranger. The result: complete and utter despair, frustration, and disappointment in yourself and your career. Pause here and take a moment to recognize what you are doing and what you can do to unfuck your mind and refocus your career.
You may be experiencing “career compare and despair” if any of the following situations ring true for you.
You spend more time perusing people’s electronic personalities and accomplishments than you do working towards your own career goals. Worse yet, you can’t even articulate your own personal and career goals. You may even spend time inflating and electronically positioning yourself so that you sound cooler and more accomplished than you actually view yourself to be.
Reduce the time you spend: a) sitting in your sweatpants, (or your time not even wearing pants) and b) perusing the online accounts and social media masks of others. Instead, increase your time working towards your own career goals and disconnect yourself from the world of social media accomplishment pornography.
If you haven’t done so already, identify your career goals and/or enlist the support of a career professional to help you in that process. Happiness and success are now individually defined, and you should have a hand in creating your own definition. If you don’t define your goals, others will do it for you, and/or you will spend time helping other people achieve their goals while yours languish. Or worse yet, you will spend precious time, effort, and resources on achieving goals that you don’t even want to accomplish.
It may be helpful to create a simple “to do list” or even better, a “do not do list,” which will include time wasting activities that have little positive impact on your career goal attainment. An hour spent aimlessly cruising social media, is an hour you could have worked on a meaningful goal.
And don’t post crap just to look cool, as it will harm your ability to feel authentic. The closer the perceptions of others and yourself are aligned with how you actually live and behave, the more authentic, powerful, and motivated you will feel. In summary, if you are spending more time trying to get attention versus paying attention to your career and things that interest you, you need to refocus.
You experience jealously and feel worse about yourself after reading the accomplishments of others.
Rather than being jealous, think about what you can learn from their accomplishments (this is assuming that you haven’t yet unplugged). Rather than scrolling aimlessly, make sure you have a purpose when on social media and match your behaviours to that purpose. For example, if your purpose is to get information on trends, competitors, or specific careers, you don’t need to be creeping your ex or looking up everyone you went to high school with. Be happy for others when they enjoy a moment of success. That feeling is more likely to find its way back to you. Lastly, don’t forget that what you are seeing is someone else’s carefully curated highlight reel, it doesn’t show the real struggles and failures (and helping hands up) experienced along the way.
You feel as though “everyone else has their career figured out” and you are miles behind where you should be. You use arbitrary factors, such as age, to compare yourself against the accomplishments of others. For example, “I should be at the same stage in my career as her because we are the same age and we graduated from the same program.”
Figuring shit out never ends. Other people posting stuff could very well be their distraction from actually doing something productive. Assuming that you should be at the same stage as someone else in their career because you are the same age is ridiculous. You likely have different interests, values, unique aspects of your personality and available resources that influences your career, and these attributes should influence you more than a post. Remember that everyone gets dealt a different hand of cards in life, and it’s how you play them that matters. So, focus on playing your cards – everyday.
You only compare yourself to people who are “ahead” of you, versus those who are in a similar position or worse off than you.
This of course is ridiculous, as it is predicated on how you define better or worse. So, step back and give yourself a reality check! Is constantly comparing yourself to others hindering or helping your career development and mental health? There is a significant difference between wanting what you have and having what you want.
Learn how to recognize and appreciate the accomplishments you have made, while setting a realistic plan to work towards your next goal by building on your skills and accomplishments. If you don’t work to identify the tools and resources within you, the career you do build may be poorly constructed.
You begin to feel as though time is slipping through the cracks; your mission to find a cure for a life threating illness, invent a new product, create an iconic piece of art or solve world peace seems more and more impossible with each passing day.
Time moves forward regardless of whether or not you take any action towards achieving your career goals. I’ve seen clients agonize for six months over whether to complete a twelve-month certificate only to realize that they could have been halfway through their program. Focus on what you might gain by taking action, instead of what you might lose; unless the loss means losing a crappy relationship, a job you loathe, or an apartment that smells or is unsafe.
I have worked with many clients who have a difficult time identifying their accomplishments. In fact, a blank page with “Accomplishments” written at the top is a common exercise I ask clients to complete, but about 75% of the time it comes back with lack of reflection and effort, or worse yet, completely empty. In asking what happened, I discovered that upon staring at the empty page, most people will state, “I don’t have any big accomplishments,” to which I will point out that the word “big” does not even appear on the page. Don’t superimpose the word big onto your goals to the detriment of future action or appreciation of your past action.
It’s great if you want to find a cure for a disease, write a book, or travel the world, but there are other accomplishments outside of those. Challenge yourself to identify your past accomplishments and take time to envision two or three future accomplishments. Identifying future accomplishments can be just as important as recognizing the past accomplishments.
You feel like people are watching your moves on social media and you need to create some cool career happenings.
Sure, you may feel like people are watching you if you are paranoid or have a very public profile, but the latter is often a choice we get to make. However, for the vast majority of us, we often overestimate just how much others are thinking about us. The spotlight effect (the tendency to think that others notice or think about you more than they actually do) could be wreaking havoc on your career and life.
Let’s be honest, deep down we know that people are not thinking about us nearly as often we would like to think; mostly because they are too preoccupied with the same thoughts. By thinking others are thinking about what you are doing all the time, you’ve just created a false responsibility and expectation of yourself and others. Remove it. Instead, move the spotlight to your own thoughts and behaviors and get busy taking action by making progressive steps, be they big or small. Keep track of your progress and build in five to ten minutes each day for thinking. Think about: what you want to accomplish that day, what went well, what did you learn, and what will you do differently tomorrow. Repeat!
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