Have you ever been in a room and started to wonder about the other people? Am I the youngest person in this room? Or the oldest? Am I smarter than everybody else in here? Am I better looking than him or her? If everybody in here gave my appearance a grade, what would I end up with. Well, at least I know I would do better than that guy...and she would definitely get a lower score than I would.
We take some comfort in knowing that while we may not be at the top of the pile, we’re definitely not at the bottom of it.
Maybe you’re drop dead gorgeous. Or crazy smart. Or filthy rich. Even if you’re the tops in some setting, I could probably find a bigger room with more “competition”. Or, I could just change the category to find an area where you don’t want to put yourself up for comparison.
That’s the danger of comparison: you’ll always find somebody better than you in something.
Here's the danger of comparison: you’ll always find somebody better than you in something.
I’m a fairly competitive person, so it took me a long time to be okay with not being the best at something.
In fact, I didn’t start running races until I was in my late 20s specifically because I knew I wouldn’t win them. Once I got over myself in that area, I found a new love. I almost missed out on adventure races because I couldn’t bear the thought of not winning.
But you know what? When I check the results (in races that post results), my ego swells a bit when I find out I was in the top 5%. Maybe I didn’t win, but I was better than 9 out of 10 people on that day. I didn’t win, but I definitely did not lose.
I think that’s a bigger problem than my fear of not winning ever was. See, when I get addicted to the ‘at least I wasn’t last’ syndrome, it means I’m willing to let others do poorly. Maybe I’d even be willing to push them down in order to keep myself out of last place. It’s why sometimes other people failing actually makes me happy. I’d never let on, but we’re being honest in this space, right?
And a world where people like me are okay with others doing poorly (and maybe helping them do poorly in my worst moments) just to avoid last place would look like...well, just look around.
Major health problems in other countries.
Now, I’m not trying to blame you for all the evils in our world. I’m not saying that I am in possession of the immediate practical solution for all that ails us but keeping it secret to make my life better than it would be otherwise.
But let me ask a question: If you could make literally everybody else on earth better than you (looking, richer, smarter, whatever), would you do it? Would you put yourself in last place? I mean, the world would be better off, but you wouldn’t be.
I don’t know if I could pull that off.
The Bible tells the story of a man who did exactly that. I find it to be not only an inspirational story, but a transformational one in my life...when I let it affect me.
Here’s the thing: I said I didn’t have the immediate solution for all the problems in this world, but I believe that this attitude - of caring about other people more than myself. Of getting my value by lifting others up instead of working to avoid last place - I think that actually IS the solution to the problems in our world.
Imagine a world without bullying.
Imagine a world where we collaborate to solve social issues.
Imagine a world where creating healthy environments for children is more important than new luxury options.
If I didn’t spend my time comparing myself to others, but helping others; making them the best version of themselves, I know things would get better.
There’s an African proverb which says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
We’ve got a long way to go in our world. We’re gonna need to do it together. So the stronger you are, the farther we can go.
That’s the solution to my problem. I’ve got to stop seeing competitors and start seeing teammates. And a team is only as good as its weakest member. So instead of pushing you down to make me feel better, I need to encourage you and build you up so that we can reach our potential.
(A version of this article originally appeared on I Am Second)