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Comparing yourself to others

HDN | 5/27/2010 12:00:00 AM |

When we read inspirational stories of people who quit their stressful jobs to start their own businesses, it moves us.

FATMANUR ERDOĞAN

fati@fatierdogan.com

When we read inspirational stories of people who quit their stressful jobs to start their own businesses, it moves us. We say to ourselves, wow, if they can make it happen, so can I. The other day, I read three stories about women who left their jobs in the finance world to start their own businesses. One woman was a stockbroker, and after a major health crisis brought on by work-related stress, she left her job to start an organic farm and sell vegetables at farmers' markets. The second woman quit her banking career to open a restaurant. The third woman wanted a flexible lifestyle so she could raise her new baby, so she quit her job and opened a pastry business with a friend.

On the one hand, these stories are not only inspiring, they're reassuring too. They remind us that we will be okay no matter what. Worried about losing your health insurance? Remember that woman who had a heart attack, and then went out and grew vegetables. Worried about earning enough to take care of your family? Remember that woman who had a baby, and then went out and sold croissants. Mustering the courage to become an entrepreneur is tough. It's so much easier when we think the universe will take care of us no matter what happens.

But we humans are hard-wired to compare ourselves to others, and for some reason, we tend to compare our worst to other peoples' best. For example, within moments of reading stories about successful entrepreneurs, we can take an otherwise inspiring story and use it to tear ourselves down. We start to think, if that woman could have a heart attack and still start a business, why am I so scared, even though I'm healthy? If that other woman could have a baby and still start a business, why am I so scared to start one? I must not have enough courage.

If we stopped making those kinds of comparisons, maybe those stories would stay inspiring, and we'd all go out and live our dreams. But it's unlikely we're going to stop comparing ourselves to other people. That tendency is hard-wired into us. We can never completely get away from it. In a famous study on this topic, researchers asked a group of people whether they would rather make $100,000 a year while their friends were making $120,000, or $50,000 while their friends were making $45,000. Guess what people said. The majority of them said they'd rather make the $50,000. They would cut their income in half, as long as they could make more money than their friends. That's how much we love to compare ourselves to others. It's no wonder that we can take a story about a successful entrepreneur, and instead of being inspired by it, use it to make comparisons that tear down our self-confidence.

We need to remember that the comparisons we make with other people are highly inaccurate. We need to remember that when others project an image to the public, they tend to minimize their faults and showcase their strengths. They try to display only their best faces to the public. Most of the articles you read in the media about entrepreneurs tend to do this, too. For example, the article about the woman who started her own organic farm showed her happily nurturing a colorful patch of healthy strawberries. What it didn't show is the stresses she goes through and the headaches she gets every day as she tries to run her own business. We take those unrealistic, partial, idealized images of another's life, and we compare them to the more complicated realities of our own lives. Our comparisons stack the deck against us. It's no wonder they make us feel inadequate.

So if you are looking for inspiration to start your own business, you should definitely look at how others make it happen for themselves. However, refrain from comparing their successes to your own realities. You probably don't know what they went through, and even if you do, you'll still find a way to turn the comparison against yourself. Making comparisons, but being bad at it, is just what we humans do.

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