It is no surprise that students often compare themselves to one another. While the extent of comparison may vary from student to student, students are generally familiar with comparing test scores, overall grades, and academic accomplishments. It is hard not to compare yourself to others in general, especially in the age of social media, but this characteristic is especially prominent in a university setting where many students are trying to achieve similar, or perhaps the exact same, goals. Although exchanging information with other students might seem natural and harmless, there are inherent dangers that come with comparing yourself to other students.
Think back to the last time you compared yourself to another student. How did you feel after the interaction? Does ruminating on the lives of others in contradistinction to your own life improve your mood? Be honest—does the act of comparison ever leave you unaffected, or, does it, more likely, leave you feeling miserable?
Moreover, comparing yourself to someone else requires significant time and energy which is needlessly expended. Instead, utilize that time and effort towards furthering your own goals—you’ll feel better about yourself and you will have made a tangible difference in what you are trying to achieve.
In her TED talk, Bea Arthur explains that the impulse to compare ourselves to others comes from “the fear of missing out” (FOMO) and a mindset that what you’re doing is never enough. Arthur emphasizes that people who experience FOMO are constantly comparing what they have to what they do not have—an insight that can be applied to the student experience. When students compare themselves to other students, they are typically comparing what they lack in relation to another student. However, focusing on what another student has achieved is not productive. It does not change the outcome of your own goals and it, more often than not, wastes time and energy. Comparison is not a fruitful activity; students should avoid it at all costs this semester.
Bea Arthur emphasizes that comparison should be replaced with “Alignment,” where a person and their purpose are in harmony. In other words, when one is in alignment with themselves and their goals, they have no need to compare themselves to others. Arthur explains that when one is aligned, nothing else matters, including discouragement or distraction—which is often tied to the act of comparison.
The quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” although slightly overused, rings true in many ways—particularly for students. When we compare ourselves to other students, the outcome is rarely joy. Speaking from personal experience, comparison typically results in feelings of inadequacy, despair, or self-resentment.
On the other hand, it can also result in smugness, egotism, and pride—ugly characteristics that hardly resemble joy. Students, then, should resist comparing themselves and their accomplishments to the lives and achievements of other students—even if they think it will inspire motivation or friendly competition. Instead, students should credit themselves based on their own merits and should aim to be satisfied and proud of what they have achieved—regardless of what other students may have accomplished.
In other words, do not hasten to compare yourself to the journey of another student. Behind closed doors, every student faces unique challenges. Comparing yourself to someone who is in a completely different situation in life is ultimately unfair and unproductive. This is especially true this year as the pandemic has impacted each student’s mental health and productivity in different ways.
Not comparing oneself to others is certainly easier said than done, especially in an age of social media that seemingly requires us to constantly look at what other people are doing and evaluate our own self-worth based on the lives of others. However, I’m here to tell you that once you free yourself from the weight of comparison, you will feel significantly more confident and assured about yourself and your abilities. Consequently, I encourage you to resist the urge to ask other students about their test scores or life achievements and to focus on yourself instead.
You are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing in this current moment, regardless of what other students are accomplishing. Remember, too, that student achievements are exactly that: achievements. Achievements are the tip of the iceberg; they do not showcase the hard-work that they require, and as such, it can be tempting to want something another has when so much of reality is hidden. Thus, instead of comparing yourself to other students this semester, try doing these 13 things instead—taking note of how you feel after making these substitutions.