“So, if you need to do any comparison at all – do it with your potential self!” — Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
“Stand up tall.”
I wanted to tell my mother that I was standing up tall. In fact, I think I pulled a muscle in my back from standing up so tall. If I had stood up any taller, I’d have been standing on tip-toes. Once a year since we were little, Mother had stood my brother and me in the doorway to the kitchen and put a pencil mark to indicate our height. Standing back, one could see many pencil marks and names – clear indications of how much each of us had grown since toddlers.
“Well,” I asked. “How tall am I?”
Mother got out her fabric measuring tape and made a quick calculation.
“4 feet, 9 inches – you’ve grown 2 inches over the past year.”
“Two inches!” What was two inches? What was 4 feet, nine inches for that matter? Nothing to a kid turning thirteen in two months – the shortest kid in Grade 7. My younger brother seemed to be enjoying a growth spurt that showed no sign of decelerating. He was a year and a half younger than me but already overtaking me in weight, build and stature.
“Your turn,” chimed Mother as she motioned for my brother to stand tall against the doorframe. He stood poker straight and smirked at me. I made a face back at him.
After confirmation with the fabric tape and a quick calculation, mother exclaimed, “My goodness, you’ve grown four inches in the last year. That’s truly remarkable.”
“How tall?” my brother asked, looking at me.
“4 feet, 11 inches – you’re taller than your older brother!”
Thanks, Mom. I needed that humiliation. Hearing that he was a full two inches taller than me seemed to make my brother grown taller still! Over the ensuing year, my brother continued to grow taller, bigger and broader.
I chugged along catching a growth spurt in high school that shot me up to my current height of 5 feet, 10 inches. Nowhere near my brother’s impressive 6 feet, 4 inches. Tall, muscular, with broad shoulder and a cleft chin, he was everything I wasn’t.
It seems human nature to compare ourselves to others especially if others possess something we desire. While my comparison was strictly physical, other comparisons may be financial or material. We compare incomes, houses, cars, toys, and education – even our children and life partners. We feel better if we perceive ourselves as coming out on top of the comparing.
More often than not, we end up feeling less, envious, angry and somehow deficient.
Many of us gauge our internal value based upon the external judgment of others. Research in the field of self-esteem and empowerment has brought some interesting observations to light. Individuals with a strong sense of self are less prone to compare themselves to others and less vulnerable to unfavorable comparisons by others. In fact, when self-aware individuals compare themselves to others, it is often because there was a quality that they admired and wished to emulate in the other person. This approach seemed to bolster self-esteem.
When you choose to make a comparison, ask yourself, “Who sets the benchmark?” The answer is simple. You set the benchmark and often based upon little more than the prevailing attitudes of society and your own distorted expectations of whom and how you should be.
Here’s a simple test: Do you find yourself taking satisfaction in the failures of others? Can you acknowledge the success of others without envy? Stop comparing yourself to others and focus upon becoming the best you. You’ll find the world a much gentler and kinder place to be.
Nobel Prize-winning American author, William Faulkner once wrote, “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
I realize now that my brother has his great strengths and challenges as do I have mine. I also realize that it takes a lot more courage to look at ourselves to judge whether we are measuring up to our standards or reaching our full potential. Each of us is special in our own way. To compare our bodies, our incomes or our lives negatively to another person benefit no-one. Stand up tall and be proud of who you are and more importantly, who you are becoming.
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.