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 are a few things that have helped me.
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?”
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?”
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 get over it. Because it’s not like you want to go back to Cleveland, right?
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).
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
8. Find your people
If you want to stop comparing yourself, 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.
9. Resolve to be incomparable
Comparing one human to another is so far beyond apples and oranges it’s ridiculous. But since we’re kind of 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.
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.