Column: Combating toxic comparisons


“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Theodore Roosevelt.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with this quote. And, despite being told that making comparisons is one of the worst things someone can do, many people continue to engage in this unhealthy behavior every day. I often catch myself doing it, too. 

“I wish I had their financial status.” 

“I wish I could travel the world.” 

“I wish I had their clothes.” 

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, some comparisons are healthy. They can foster new ideas and stimulate creativity that allows us to grow. They can be motivating when used in the right way. 

The comparisons I am discussing here, however, are the unhealthy and unproductive kind. They are the “poor me,” “I wish I had their life” and “I’m not good enough” comparisons.  

These types of comparisons invite resentment and dissatisfaction into our mindsets, robbing us of the joy we deserve to experience in our everyday lives.

Yeah, it’s hard for me not to compare myself to the names in the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list, but wishing I had one of their lives won’t grant it to me. 

Lehigh, a prestigious university, can become a breeding ground for toxic comparisons. 

Sororities and fraternities are “ranked” and majors are judged. Athletes compare themselves to the best in the NCAA and students wish they had the grade that set the curve for their test.

It seems like everything is based on comparison. 

As I sit in the library, I hear students asking each other what grades they got on their latest exams, what their GPAs were last semester and what internships they’re looking at. From a listener’s perspective, it sounds like everyone has their life in order.

That’s just another illusion that comparison creates. 

The introduction of social media has only made this issue worse.

I often catch myself scrolling through LinkedIn during class. It’s hard not to compare my unproductive summer to the summer of someone who just finished their internship on Wall Street. 

Social media has made toxic comparison 10 times easier and 20 times worse than before its introduction to society.

I deleted TikTok because I realized every night I was wasting my time scrolling through the app, comparing myself to the influencer who visits a different country every week and the guy who owns three custom Lamborghinis. 

Since I took a hiatus from social media, my mental clarity and sense of self has improved exponentially. Removing the toxic bases of comparison has left room for me to foster greater self-esteem and confidence.

Reminding myself that everyone is on their own path relieves me of some of the guilt I feel when I start to compare myself to others’ success. This is something I have been working on since I stepped foot on campus as a freshman. 

I have started to replace social media usage with journaling and reflections. Doing this helps me compare my current self to my past ways, rather than to other people and their situations. I have become more self-aware and able to fix subconscious habits that were negatively affecting me. 

When I’m sitting in my bed after a long day of classes, practice and other responsibilities, I feel proud of myself. In that moment of reflection, I am not comparing myself to the girl who woke up at 5 a.m. to work out or the guy who scored 100 percent on his organic chemistry exam.

In that moment, I am comparing my current self to my past self, finding joy in my own self-improvement and focusing on my own journey. As I reflect back on my day and think of my accomplishments, I feel joy. 

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1 Comment

  1. These are very good observations. Given that one is on a campus composed of “classic over-achievers” it is easy to get caught-up in the competitive hype. Don’t get me wrong, competition is a good thing and it drives one to improve. Personally, I try to surround myself with very bight people who are expert in a variety of businesses and subject matter. I am always learning something new and it drives me to bring up my game. My advice to folks at LU is to pace yourself, try your best, learn as much as you can, and enjoy the ride. Remember life is a marathon – not a sprint. While your college experience will be profound, it is just a link in the chain of your life. Again, nice piece (and I will now get off my soapbox – lol). All the best.

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