Avoid The Comparison Trap: How To Focus On Your Own Career, Not Your Co-Worker's


Figuring out and navigating your career path, negotiating for raises and making a case for promotions is hard enough. But if you start comparing your career to your friends’ or co-workers’, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Take for instance a woman at her first job out of college who was up for her annual review. She knew that a co-worker, who was also a friend, had recently asked for — and received — a significant pay raise. During her review, when her boss offered her a lesser increase, she mentioned the co-worker’s raise and asked for the same amount. She didn’t have any reasons why she should get a more substantial raise, other than that was what her friend received. Her boss said no. She became unhappy at work. Her performance suffered, and ultimately she was fired. Incidentally, the co-worker had been at the company longer and had recently received an industry award.

I have had many conversations with professionals over the years who are interested in a position to advance their career but ultimately end up not moving forward because of “something I was talking to my friend about.”

Career-building isn’t about the chase; it’s an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. But it’s hard to see your friends and co-workers race ahead, posting their every move on social media, while you maintain a steady pace. Here are some things to think about when you’re tempted to compare your career with friends’ or co-workers’.

Why did your friend get that promotion?

In the case above, the woman compared herself to a friend who was performing better than she was. The co-worker had more experience and professional recognition. When you’re comparing yourself and your career path with someone who’s more successful or earning more, first consider the following uncomfortable questions:

• Does your friend work harder?

• Is he/she more talented or better at the job than you?

• Has your friend worked at the company longer?

• Does your friend have more work experience?

Also remember, it’s possible your friend isn’t honest about raises or promotions. Unless you work for a government agency, the pay and job level of your friends and co-workers isn’t publicly available. It’s also possible that your friend got that raise or promotion but has to work 60 or more hours a week and is miserable, making the reward not worth the sacrifice.

Do you have different career paths?

Everyone is unique, and so are their career paths. It’s a waste of time and energy to compare yourself to someone else. A friend may have more professional success or make more money, but are you in the same field, with the same work experience and the same education? Do you have the same life and career goals? Chances are, the answer is no.

Comparing yourself to that friend is like comparing apples and basketballs. They’re both round, and that’s about it. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Review your own performance, goals and education, and figure out if you’re performing up to your expectations.

Stop playing the comparison game, and focus on your career.

It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game, especially with the rise of social media over the last decade or more. Most social media users — especially so-called social media influencers — work hard to make their lives seem perfect. They’ve got the perfect job. They make as much money as they want. They go on dream vacations. Their houses and kids are beautiful, and on and on. Focusing on how you stack up to friends, in real life or on social media, will only distract you from your career and lower your confidence. It’s also bad for your mental health and can lead to what is sometimes referred to as “obsessive comparison disorder.” People who suffer from this may feel dissatisfied with their lives and experience symptoms of depression.

Instead of obsessively thinking about your friends’ lives, which could cause you legitimate harm, focus on yourself:

• Think about what you need to do to advance in your career.

• Work harder.

• Look for opportunities to gain new skills. This may mean volunteering at a nonprofit or joining industry groups.

• Point out your successes to superiors — don’t be humble.

• Consider changing companies. In some fields, advancement happens through job changes.

Building a successful career doesn’t happen overnight. Like that ultra-marathon, it takes training, dedication, perseverance and hard work. So today, resolve to stop comparing yourself with friends or co-workers. Instead, focus on steadily building your own career, and being the person you want to be.

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