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  • Writer's pictureRobert Norton

Coming up short?

My daughter is in Junior High, at an age when comparing yourself to others is practically a full-time job. Unsurprisingly, we often discuss how to handle uncomfortable feelings of envy.

And, in my leadership coaching practice, I've found that the lessons don't stop just because you've escaped the school cafeteria. Jealousy derails even the most mature and successful of us. In fact, goal-oriented high-performers seem particularly talented at sizing themselves up unfavorably against their peers.

To successfully battle envy, carefully consider who you are comparing yourself against. In her Yale course on the science of happiness, Professor Laurie Santos introduces the concept of relative reference points, inviting us to consider whether our comparisons are even appropriate.

For example, I'm famous for judging my level of musical ability against my musical heroes.

Me: This song is so profoundly moving, and the songwriter is so talented. I'm just not gifted in that way. I started playing and writing much too late in life. I'll never catch up. What's the point? I might as well check my email instead of practicing.

After applying Dr. Santos's filter:

Enlighted Me: This song is so profoundly moving, and the songwriter is so talented. I wish I were that good. But, alas, that person is a recording artist who does this for a living and has access to support and tools I do not have. Oh, and by the way, she dedicates hours to her craft daily, so she is probably not a great relative reference point for me. I'll go practice and see if there's something in what I hear that I can recreate.

Next time you feel that agonizing drumbeat of JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH, stop and reconsider your vantage point.

  • Are you judging your performance against someone far more seasoned?

  • Are you measuring up to someone with more advantages than you?

  • Are you comparing your day-to-day happiness to someone else's highlight reel on social media?

Instead, refocus on how far you've come and how much potential you have. Those are the only measures that count.




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