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The Losing Game of Comparison

  |  February 13, 2014   |  Comments

Many of us assume that our careers will follow a set linear path, but often that is not the case. Instead of dwelling on what you expected the trajectory to look like, focus on your strengths and the value you bring to a group.

"Jealousy is the fear of comparison." - Max Frisch, novelist

I have fraternal twin boys. They were born a minute apart almost six years ago and from the moment they were born have had identical measurements, both weight and height. Like robots, they even met their early milestones at the same time, and, even though they weren't identical, they looked exactly alike for their first couple of years. It was hard to not think of them interchangeably.

They started kindergarten this past September at a time when our educational system is testing-happy. We receive status updates on their academic progress at a rate that can rival the invitations you receive from your second cousin to Candy Crush Saga. The boys are in different classes now and we can't ignore the fact that they're different people with individual strengths and challenges. At first, my default was to compare them, especially since until September they had all the same background and opportunities. Wouldn't they then be on the same track? Apparently, that's not how life works whether you're in kindergarten or 20 years into your career.

When we're in school, we follow a preset path - kindergarten, first grade, second, etc. We assume our careers will follow the same path, from entry level to president perhaps. Those who begin with us we assume will either follow a similar trajectory and/or will be our main competition. It doesn't work that way for many reasons. For one, very few of us stay on the same track. Life gets in our way (as it should). Secondly, like my twins, we're not identical with our peers. They may be better managers of people and you may be more creative; it wouldn't be fair to you, them, or your employer to bypass this understanding in favor of some egalitarian structure.

As someone who has mentored and coached people extensively in my career, I'm often confronted with this situation of "Why her and not me?" Sometimes that individual may not even want the promotion someone else received, but they assume they should at least be in line for it because of how many years they have put in. Don't worry about other people. Don't even worry if they got the one job that you really wanted (if you're qualified, there will be another one better suited for you, trust me). Competition, keeping score, and comparing your outcomes to others is a losing, unproductive game. It doesn't move you forward. There may be very good reasons about why you didn't get what you believe you deserved, but it has nothing to do with why someone else did and even less to do with what you expected the linear path to look like.

Instead, focus on what your strengths are and the value you bring to a group. Also, surround yourself with mentors and supervisors who can also guide you honestly in your personal career path. I remember 10 years ago, after many interviews, not being offered a senior position I thought I was qualified for. I was disappointed, but my mentor was pleased. She had the experience and understanding that this was a mismatch and, even though I couldn't see it at the time (and now do), at least, the hiring employer did also.

As I write this, I hear my twins arguing over who is a better artist. "Art is a pretty wide field," I yell over.

"Well, I'm a better speller," one yells back.

"Better than whom? Not me!" I yell back (although, that may not be true; I'm a terrible speller).

Silence - they are either banding together to defeat me or they have no idea what I'm talking about. Either way, I'm OK with it. At least they're not fighting.

Image via Shutterstock.


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Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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