You’ve been trained since you were young that the only way to understand who you are is to compare yourself to others.
Where did this comparison ideology come from? For me, it began in elementary school when my teacher listed off the names of students that were going to attend TAG class. I soon learned that TAG stood for “talented and gifted,” and, since I was not on that list, I learned that I must be neither talented nor gifted.
Over the years, more defining comparisons came in the form of honor roll certificates, leadership positions and senior superlatives. In fact, time seems to heap the comparisons on top of each other. And now here at BYU, the competitive mindset hasn’t stopped, be it about being a perfect student for your program or career, or being the perfect “dater” to find that special someone – and the list goes on.
I’m sure you could tell me the name of someone right now that you believe is perfect. Someone who makes you think, “I will never be as good as him or her.” It could be a roommate, a friend or a sibling. Regardless of who it may be, the truth is, you are right. You may never be as good as that person, but her or she may never be as good as you, because comparing ourselves to one another really is impossible. During your lifetime, you have met different people, been different places, learned different things and been raised differently than everyone else, so comparing yourself to others can never be a true judge of who you really are.
Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Do not fall into that trap. You were created as an individual, so stop pretending you have to be like everyone else. Sean Covey once wisely compared us all to cakes being baked. He said, “Since we all bake differently, we shouldn’t keep opening the oven door to see how well our cake is rising compared to our neighbor’s, or our own cake won’t rise at all.” Don’t let the comparison mentality ruin your development.
Don’t get me wrong, comparing ourselves to one another isn’t all bad. As any sports coach or business owner knows, competition should only make one stronger. The problem arises when you discredit yourself any time someone else does something praiseworthy. It was a friendly slap in the face when I finally realized that being good at something didn’t make me any better or worse than anyone else. Who cares if all your roommates got an A in American Heritage? If you got one too, that’s still something to be excited about. If you were the captain of your high school sports team and then your younger sibling grew up to do the same, what difference does it make? That doesn’t negate the fact that you still had the honor to be captain of your team. Enjoyment and fulfillment come from the experience, so be grateful for your own life experiences and opportunities, no matter how others’ lives may unfold.
As a predominantly Latter-day Saint university, religion adds another factor to the BYU mix. All of us have been commanded by God to be like Christ, the only perfect person there has ever been. Talk about reaching for unattainable goals in this lifetime. Expectations, such as perfect home or visiting teaching, ecclesiastical leadership and more, are further heaped upon young BYU students, but that is no reason to be discouraged. Give your best effort and enjoy each moment the best you can. Do not ignore the successes of others, but be glad for both their successes and for your own. After all, “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God,” not to become exactly like Him.
Through my lifetime of living in this comparison-focused society, I realized that all that time and energy I spent focusing on others caused me to miss out on some happy moments. Comparisons can be distractions to what is most important. Live life to the fullest and rejoice in your moments of triumph, because you are the best you there will ever be.