When we think about success, we almost always make comparisons. That’s how people end up chasing titles, recognition, number of followers, or more income.
That’s a shame because most people start with the best intentions. You might want to:
- Organize yoga retreats
- Do more freelancing work for a handful of clients who appreciate you
- Start a business by doing work you enjoy, and that creates value
- Invest in real estate or companies that are undervalued
So you start out well. You do the right thing. You educate yourself. You get after it.
But after working a while, you get bored. Results might not come as quickly as you expected. The work is hard. People are ignoring you.
During those times, you need to be better. But instead, you get distracted by comparing yourself to others. That’s destructive behavior. Comparing oneself to others has destroyed many people’s good intentions.
Life is about accepting that everyone’s situation is unique. We’re all on our own trajectory. Our careers, families, relationships, mental and emotional health, and so forth are different from others.
Other factors like talent, stress-tolerance, financial and social resources, educational background, and so forth also come into play.
Too many people forget about those things. So when things don’t work out, they get discouraged and depressed.
Lack of success doesn’t make you a failure
One of my friends recently told me a story about his med-student friend. The guy’s parents are neurologists, while his uncles and aunts are medical specialists. And his “most successful cousin” is not just a doctor, but also an owner of a chain of pharmacies.
My friend once asked him if he ever considered taking a career other than medicine and the friend replied: “In my family, you are either a doctor or a failure. There is no middle ground.”
They laughed about it then. But my friend knew the guy was dead serious.
This career perspective is too common: We are either a success (whatever that means) or a failure. There is no middle ground.
But “success” is subjective. For example, to be a successful writer, one doesn’t need to be a NY Times Best Seller or even a highly-acclaimed columnist. Just look at Ben Thompson, creator of the newsletter Stratechery, who earns seven figures for writing analyses on media and tech.
Not succeeding in one market or field of study doesn’t make you a failure. It’s also meaningless if you’re successful at making money but are miserable because you sacrificed all other areas of life.
We define what true success means for us. We don’t even have to measure it at all. Some people go through life without having any career goals or income goals. If that works, why not?
I love to set goals that are within my control. That helps me to stay motivated and to keep moving forward. The key is to figure out how you work best.
Make comparisons with your past self, not someone else
Look, I’m not a fan of comparing yourself to others, no matter what. I just don’t see any benefit in that.
Sure, it’s great to not have an ego and be open to learning from others. But you don’t have to compare yourself when you learn from others.
As an investor, I look up to Warren Buffett, and I’ve learned a lot from studying his advice and actions. But I will never look at my results and compare them to his. Why?
If you want to measure your progress, it’s best to look at yourself. This is one of the most important lessons that Jordan Peterson shares in his book, 12 Rules For Life. He said:
“Don’t compare yourself with other people; compare yourself with who you were yesterday.”
I look at my investing decisions in the past and compare them to my current. For example, from the start of 2022, the stock market has been going down. In the past, I would worry. Now, I don’t. I simply stick to my plan and realize that markets recover in time.
I just keep improving myself. This is also how I started my online business—by improving it gradually over time. Not by looking at how others built their businesses.
If you’re reading this, it means you care about personal growth. It also means you’re closer to success than other people who don’t even bother to think about it.
Just remind yourself of that. As long as you’re learning and improving, you’re on the right path. There’s no need to be concerned with what others do. Who cares, anyway?