It can happen anytime of the day or night. When you’re scrolling through social media feeds, reading an email, or having a face-to-face conversation. Your stomach starts to churn and jaw tightens but then it gets worse. Your mind starts comparing yourself to others.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been freelancing for; there will be times (many, many times) when you compare yourself to others. From looking at your competitor’s website content and assessing it against yours. Feeling bad that you haven’t got enough social media followers to ‘make it’. Getting frustrated that your colleagues and competitors appear to be super successful.
From your viewpoint they are:
- pitching and winning all the ‘dream gigs’
- launching products and services that ‘everyone’ is buying, and
- being paid to speak at conferences and workshops.
Comparing yourself to colleagues, friends and competitors in most cases will make you feel terrible. Aside from the physical and mental stress of comparing yourself to others, there’s the ‘down the rabbit hole’ waste of time and energy factor to consider.
Comparing yourself to others is part of being human
Trying to fight feelings of comparison and berating yourself for “indulging in it” will usually not work. In the early 1950s Leon Festinger, a social psychologist proposed a theory called Social Comparison that “centres on the belief that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations. The theory explains how individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others in order to reduce uncertainty in these domains, and learn how to define the self.”
In other words, we get a sense of clarity and validity by comparing ourselves against other people; like a benchmark. Festinger differentiates between upward social comparison and downward social comparison. Upward social comparison occurs when you compare yourself to others who you perceive as being better than you. Festinger discovered that we do this as we evaluate where we are and how to improve ourselves. Downward social comparison occurs when we measure and evaluate ourselves against others to feel consciously or unconsciously superior.
In Brene Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are”, she says “Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it may seem like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of ‘alike things’”.
She also notes that, “letting go of comparison is not a to-do list item. For most of us, it’s something that requires constant awareness. It’s so easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing and if they’re ahead or behind us. Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning.”
Tips and techniques on how to deal with comparison as a freelancer
1. When you notice yourself comparing yourself to others – shake it off!
Without getting all Taylor Swift, I’ve found that detaching from comparison, shaking it off and laughing is helpful. And if shaking it off feels hard, writing down exactly what you’re thinking, feeling and getting upset about can also help.
If I find myself falling into the rabbit hole of comparison, I’ve discovered that judging myself about it is not helpful. Instead, I’ll switch it up and ask myself do I compare myself to colleagues, friends or competitors with things like:
- what brand and size of shoes they wear?
- what they eat for breakfast and lunch?
- where they live and who they live with?
- what shampoo and deodorant they use?
- what type of car they drive?
Because when I interrupt my thoughts with these types of questions, I start to laugh! I really don’t care about any of the above, so why should I be bothered comparing myself to someone else’s business?
2. Stop comparing someone else’s highlights to where you are now
When the washing machine has broken, the dog vomited twice on the carpet and your neck has seized up from too much computer work, the last thing you want to see is someone else’s wins. On the days where ‘life keeps throwing mud in my face’ I make a conscious effort to stay away from social media.
Remember that social media posts generally only highlight the wins, successes and business progress. You don’t know what’s really going on in someone else’s business, so don’t waste time worrying about how to be like them. Save your energy and time to focus on your business.
3. Comparison is an opportunity to reassess what your intrinsic and extrinsic values are
When the cogs of comparison kick in, they can be helpful or harmful. Sitting around feeling grumpy and angry that ‘everyone else is doing so well but me’ is a human reaction. Instead of wasting hours and days feeling like this, it can be helpful to think about what’s really important to you.
In 2003, the University of Rochester asked college graduates to report their life objectives and how happy or unhappy this made them. They discovered that achieving extrinsic goals including money, recognition and fame didn’t lead to an improvement in their subjective wellbeing. While the graduates did feel good after reaching the extrinsic goals, this feeling did not last. However, achieving intrinsic goals like personal growth, community involvement and meaningful relationships led to improved happiness and wellbeing. Taking some time out to establish intrinsic and extrinsic goals for your life and business will help you stay focused and be less distracted with what others are doing around you.
Comparison is a part of life and freelance life. The next time you feel it ‘kicking in’ remember that you’re not the only one feeling like this. If you find yourself wasting too much time and energy feeling upset that you’re ‘not good enough’ reach out for help. By talking to a business coach, counselor, friends and colleagues you’ll get clarity and insights into what’s really important to your business.
Kylie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has been a freelance SEO copywriter for 8 years. When she’s not writing website content, blogs and articles, Kylie reads and binges on Netflix series. For the past 5 years Kylie has been a full-time volunteer puppy carer for Seeing Eye Dogs Australia.