How to Stop Comparing Yourself When Everyone Is So Badass

 In Badassery
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A few weeks ago, I almost quit my high-altitude mountaineering class. Not because it was too hard or too scary. But because when you’re surrounded by die-hard badasses, it’s really hard to stop comparing yourself to others.

Seriously, the boys all carried 80 pounds for fun. The girls were trim size zeroes. Everyone had top-notch gear and a bottomless bank account to buy even more. When we hiked, I was a mile behind. After the hike, I’d eat a hamburger and everyone else would order a gluten free quinoa bowl.

Granted, this stuff was probably more my own distorted perception than reality.  And you know? It was really ridiculous. Because comparing yourself to others has to be one of the most pointless things you can do.

It didn’t improve my motivation or make me a better teammate. (Who wants to hike with Miss Bitter Pants?) Hell, it almost derailed me from a goal I’ve sunk oodles of time and money and passion into.

But how do you rally when it seems like everyone around you is fitter, faster, richer, prettier, skinnier, luckier, more in love, and has a better couch? Here’s how to stop comparing yourself to others.

1. Compare you to you — and only you

I used to do this awful thing during road races where I would pick out someone ahead of me who was older or a little pudgy. And I would tell myself, “I’m gonna pass them, because I should be faster.”

And wouldn’t you know it, half the time they would totally smoke my ass.

I’d waste a lot of energy chasing them and blow out halfway through the race. Really, I’d have posted much better times if I’d just ignored everyone else and paced myself right.

So don’t look around and ask yourself, “Who should I be better than?” Stop comparing yourself to others.

Instead, ask, “Am I faster, braver, and stronger than I was this time last year?” Or, “How fast or strong do I have to be to reach my goals?”

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Else Is So Badass

2. Accept that there’s always someone better

The best way to live your passion is to join a community that shares that passion. And a lot of times that’s going to mean being mediocre compared to your peers. Or honestly, even a little shitty.

I can tell you from experience: it’s super easy to be queen badass when you live in Pittsburgh or Kansas City or Tampa. It’s a whole different story when you move to Colorado and Lindsay Vonn, Tommy Caldwell, and Aaron Ralston all live in your backyard.

A few months ago in Denver, I was sitting across from two women at dinner. One had climbed Denali unguided. The other had just come back from Aconcagua. I thought to myself, This just doesn’t happen in Ohio. 

But it was also kind of awesome.

So if you can’t stand being worse-than, seriously, just woman up and stop comparing yourself to others. Because it’s not like you want to go back to Cleveland, right?

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

3. Be badass at things that actually matter

We saw this really great presentation in high-altitude mountaineering school by a couple who climbed Cho Oyu. They had teenage kids at the time, and before they left for China, they did a lot of soul searching.

Their message: we accepted that we were risking our lives for absolutely no reason at all.

We all kind of laughed when they said it. But they’re right. Climbing a big mountain is cool, but it doesn’t feed hungry children or right wrongs or score you mad karma points.

So before you get all bent about not being a good enough mountaineer (or climber or paddler, etc.), ask yourself, What hills really are worth dying on? 

Maybe for you its about being a great partner or parent or friend. Or maybe you have a thirst for social justice. Or a burning desire to preserve our wild areas (like the guys in the awesome 3-minute film below).

Packing It Out: Cleaning America’s Wild Trails from Colin Arisman on Vimeo.

Perhaps you’d like to dedicate yourself to toppling a federal administration filled with hateful bigots who only want to enrich the rich. (By the way, if that last one sounds like you, here’s an app you gotta see.)

Whatever you do, do things that matter. Make them priorities. It’s easier to stop comparing yourself to others when you’re a badass with balance.

4. Give social media the giant hairy eyeball

Science has spoken. Facebook actually makes us more depressed.

If you hang out there too long, you’ll start to believe that everyone has the perfect life, the perfect house, the perfect clothes, the perfect partner, the perfect kids, and the perfect everything.

And you know what? It’s all bullshit. Really, it is. So stop comparing yourself to others’ fake online lives.

I have a friend who’s half of one of those adorable Instagram travel couples. Their feed is all about them standing in beautiful destinations and eating scrumptious food, all while looking like they’ve just had the best sex of their lives.

The other night I had dinner with her. Beforehand, I braced myself to not appear inferior and jealous. But then she totally surprised me.

“Oh my god, Ernst is driving me bat shit,” she said. “All he wants to do when we’re home is binge watch Original Netflix series in his boxers. I told him if he doesn’t get off his lazy ass and fix the car this weekend I’m putting his stuff out on the lawn.”

So there you have it. Everyone, you and me included, curates the best version of themselves for social media consumption. So never, never let that shit draw you down the self-comparison rabbit hole.

(By the way, do you know what makes us most depressed, according to that Facebook study? Other people’s vacation pictures. Sorry guys. I’m gonna try to post more pics of me sleeping on my suitcase in the corner after my flight gets canceled.)

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

5. Realize that vulnerability is sexy

Remember America’s Next Top Model? There would always be a girl with a polished and perfect exterior. (Very often, she’d done pageants.) And usually, even though she was really cute and nice to everyone, you’d kind of hate her, right?

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like to be around people who admit when they’re scared, when they suck at things, and when they’re tired. Better yet, I like to be around people who actually let their emotions show. It comforts me and makes me feel less like a spaz. So stop comparing yourself to others and be brave enough to show the real you.

When my travel couple friend told me the truth about Ernst, it reminded me why I love her. Because even though she plays the game on Instagram, she never pretends to be perfect in real life.

Back on ANTM, Tyra used to get annoyed with the perfect girls too. So when someone was totally faking it, Tyra would just freaking confront her about it and break her down. And then when she cried, Tyra would tell her she was beautiful. And you know, it kind of was.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

6. Practice feeling joy for others — and yourself

Do you enjoy hanging out with people who are mired in jealousy and bitterness? Me neither. Especially when that bitter person is me.

Research suggests that people who write down three things a day they’re grateful for actually start to feel better about their lives. So if you want to stop comparing yourself to others, practice the human equivalent.

Go to your social media feed right now and find three people who are really happy about something. (Or at least acting that way.) Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.

Then comment and write them a little note about how radiant and in love they look, or how you’re so impressed by their new kitchen, or how you’re totally jealous of their beautiful vacation photos, or how you want that lipstick they’re wearing in their seventeenth selfie post of the day.

It might not be easy at first. In fact, it might feel totally weird and insincere.

But the great thing about practicing “being happy for” is that it paves the way for us to feel happy about ourselves — and also to receive sincere happiness and admiration from others.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

7. Embrace being the worst-at

Our mountaineering class went out for beers, and everyone was talking about all the training climbs they want to do this spring. Because they’re all way more badass than me, many of these outings involved technical ice and mixed climbing and super steep snow. It was pretty clear to me that I didn’t have the skills or fitness for half of what they had planned.

I was pretty demoralized by the whole thing. Driving home, I said to one of my classmates, “Everyone’s just better than me. I think I’m in the wrong class.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Don’t feel that way. Look at it as an opportunity to do things you don’t think you can do.”

And she’s totally right. When I stop comparing myself to others and getting all upset, it really is a gift. Granted, I won’t be climbing any WI5 this year. But I bet this crew will get me up a few of the longer, steeper couloirs I wouldn’t dare try on my own.

Get used to being around people who are better at stuff than you. Let them pull you up.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

8. Find your people

If you want to stop comparing yourself to others, you absolutely have to start with you.

But it’s also true that there are a lot of annoying people out there who live to compete and be the best. And also quite a few who lack empathy for those who are less strong or skilled.

Now like I said, It’s good to go out and badass around with people who are better than you. But if you do that all the time, you’ll burn out.

So balance playing with people who push you with teammates who feel easy and comfortable. People who let you stop and take pictures. People who walk with you even on the days you’re carrying weight or feeling a little slow.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Is So Badass

9. Resolve to be incomparable

Comparing one human to another is so far beyond apples and oranges it’s ridiculous. But since we’re totally used to ourselves, we get a bit numb to our own awesomeness.

So I think in this regard, it helps to have a totem. Think of something that’s so wild, so out there, so incredibly whacky and incomparable and special, that people are like, yeah. That’s just one of a kind.

Take Pixu, which is a creature from Chinese mythology. It’s got the head of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and it’s usually depicted with its mouth wide open.

Pixu also doesn’t have an asshole (as our guide Apple informed us within two minutes of meeting us). So fortune flows into its open mouth, but never, yanno, flows out. It’s a symbol of wealth, and people in Beijing love wearing Pixu totems.

A pro tip from Apple if you ever visit China: “We must never touch the ass of Pixu.” Because if you do, you’re totally bogarting the owner’s wealth, jerk face.

So anyway. Pixu doesn’t have to sit around thinking, I am the best EVAH semi-mythical creature with amazing money-making ass powers. Because it’s legitimately the only one. Just like you’re the only one.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, find a totem of unique awesome and hold it close. Just like the wise and all-knowing Prince taught us way back in the 90s, Nothing Compares 2 U, Boo.

Originally published on March 27, 2017.

How do you stop comparing yourself to others even when it’s oh-so easy? Comment below to share.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others When Everyone Else Is Oh-So Badass

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Showing 18 comments
  • Kamala Marshall

    OMG! this is how i feel about you, miss globe trotting, adventure queen….and hell no, i am not going back to cleveland @ it!!

    i was really freaked out about this moving to CO, but recently i just accepted that i am not an ultra athlete, but being around all these ultras will only make me stronger and widen my perspective.

    (very well written piece, btw)

    • El Jefe

      Aw, thanks! And you are always ultra in my book. Let’s catch up soon.

  • Erica Tewell

    I LOVE this. Not the athletic type growing up etc and my fiancé is/was so even in my most nearest and dearest relationship I have compared myself. Always wanting to go to the level he is at etc. but he has helped me see that just doing and trying and being is awesome. Social media has its ways of tricking at times but I try to look at my life and when I post something where I am over the moon, I remember it’s not always that way and others lives aren’t either. What I choose to do instead of compare is let others abilities, adventures, and strengths inspire me. Thank you for being part is that inspiration!!!

    • El Jefe

      Good for you, and thanks for your kind words! Self-compassion isn’t an easy place to get to.

  • Don Bray

    I despise the word badass. It often equates to dumbass. We see it everywhere

  • Joe Wojniak

    Particularly in mtn sports, I’ve found that trying to stay in the lead group at the start means I will probably run out of gas. If I move at my sustainable pace, I’ll summit. It’s been hard to remember that, especially with a new group. Great article!

    • El Jefe

      Thanks for having a read! As someone who’s not a natural speed demon, I couldn’t agree more about pace. Slow is fast on long hikes!

  • Diane Mongno

    Just love this post!!! So many good points to remember, and that are so true, whether one is a mountain climber or not!!! 🙂

    • El Jefe

      Aw, thanks so much! Appreciate you having a read.

  • Emily Sharpe

    This is such a great post…and to be honest is how I have felt about you and all your incredible adventures, especially after reading your post about Rainier, one of my big bucket list goals! I need to work on this, like you, so thank you for sharing!

  • Les Petits Pas de Juls

    I love this! If I ever hang out with you, I’d feel ever the worst climber (especially after having failed to climb Mt Blanc this year, weather conditions again claimed the best of us) but I’d love to hang out with you in order to push my limits ever further.
    This is the perfect read for a lot of us out there!
    Thanks for writing it and happy climbing!!!
    You’re one of the best!

    • El Jefe

      Aw, thanks so much for having a read and your kind words! I sincerely hope we’ll get to take a hike someday.

      And it’s true there’s nothing any of us can do about the weather, as we also learned in Bolivia. Do you have plans to try Mont Blanc again? That’s really cool.

  • Don Bray

    The fastest way to disrespect yourself is to compare yourself to others.

  • Diana Kurniawan

    You know what…you totally ROCK, Sarah! I love this article, although I don’t hike or climb. I’m taking this article and applying it to my writing life. It goes beyond just climbing. You’re awesome! 😀

    • El Jefe

      Aw, thanks. I feel the same way sometimes when we’re in writing class and some of the peeps at Lighthouse are just SO GOOD. There are endless places to compare yourself!

  • steph rombough

    Love this article because it’s so true! When I first started climbing literally everyone was better than me. It’s hard not to feel defeated! But I recognized that I had a fear of heights most climbers don’t have, yet I loved being out there, so I kept going back. Compete with yourself only. Worst case scenario you become more bad-ass than you were yesterday.
    Your blog is great!!

    • Sarah E Maurer

      Hey sorry for the delayed reply. Thanks for your kind words and good on you for powering through! Hoping you’re having a great summer.

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