Should you ever compare yourself to someone else?

I did the three peaks challenge recently.

Impressed huh?  Except it wasn’t the one (three) involving Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowden.  In fact, it was the three peaks challenge comprising…  Wait for it…

Whiteleaf Cross, Coombe Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon.

And no, I didn’t run it.  I walked.  There were three options for this challenge.  Walk seven miles, 11 miles or twenty miles.  Guess which one I did?  Yup, the eleven-mile option. 

I’ll be honest, it was quite hard.  Nothing that made me think I was going to give up or stop or call in air-support, but it was a challenge.

The challenge is held locally to me in the Chilterns and run by Rennie Grove Hospice care which is a local charity to me.  It aims to raise much needed funds for the end of life care it offers to children and adults, in their own homes.  It has looked after a few people I know and therefore something I feel strongly about supporting.  I can see where my money is going and the impact it has on lives that ripple against mine.

Back to how hard it was.  As an ex tennis-coach I’ve spent a lot of my life fit.  I probably ran that 11 miles most days intermixed with sprinting and power training.  I used to do 10k’s regularly, for fun or just because it was raining so we’d take the kids for a run rather than hit balls.

Did you spot the key words there?  “used to”.

When Kay and I signed up for the three peaks, in my head I said to myself “11 miles, that’ll be a doddle, it’ll be a doddle.   A bit hilly perhaps but nothing I can’t handle with ease”.

And I was right.  If I was doing it 10 years ago.

I’ll be honest.  I’m disappointed in myself.  I expected to breeze through it, and it was tougher than I thought.  In fairness I did the usual Ash thing.  No training, no fuel and too much red wine on Saturday night.  Because, that’s what I used to do for something as easy as that.

Used to…

You see, I’m comparing myself with who used to be physically.  And I do it all the time.  I drive past tennis courts and think I can still play at the level ‘I used to’.  I could probably have a go, but I doubt I’d able to walk for a couple of days afterwards.

I have no right to do this to myself.  I don’t train apart from going to the gym in the winter and I focus all my ‘sporting’ attention on playing golf.  Here, I’m happy to compare myself to who I was a few years ago.  I’ve practiced, I’ve played and I’m far better than I used to be.  My focus has led to an improved Ash the golfer.

There’s an interesting thing I noticed when I got home and started scrolling through my Insta feed (I’m down with the kids).  It was also the Great North Run.  The largest and by all accounts one of the toughest half marathons in the world.  It was won by Mo Farah for the 6th time in a row in a ridiculous time of 59 minutes and 7 seconds.  That’s 13 miles in less than an hour. It took us around 5 hours, with stops etc to do 11 miles.  Okay, we weren’t racing, but come on.  It’s only two miles difference.  We should have waltzed that in half the time, easily.

And that, right there is the difference.  You see It’s okay to feel disappointment in how I did in comparison to how I feel I could have done 10 years ago.  Okay, it would be even more alright if I was still training and running every day.  But, I’m not.

What is not okay is comparing myself to Mo Farah.  Nor is it okay to compare myself to Dean Haywood, a friend who also ran the Great North Run yesterday.  Time… 1.49.19.  I’m impressed.  I’m going to hold back on saying I’m rubbish in comparison.  Dean runs most days.  He pushes himself, trains hard and has set his sights on doing this race and doing it as well as he can.  I suspect he’s got running buddies who push each other along and raise the standards amongst the group.  But he’s not going to compare himself to Mo Farah.

Or is he?  You see, I think he will, just a little bit.  There may be a small part of him that will look at Mo’s time (can I call him Mo or is it sir really fast Farah?) and think “I didn’t do so well”.  I hope I’m wrong.  I’m also an observer of human behaviour and I suspect I’m right. 

It’s something that permeates much of what we do and how we judge our progress and success. Or, lack of it. We hold ourselves up to people of greatness and compare ourselves unfavourable.  We look at athletes, musicians, dancers and say to ourselves “I’m rubbish because I can’t do that”.

As a tennis player I’d always compare myself to the playing greats of the time.  The players who had 10 years or more playing time and experience than me.  I’d feel unworthy.  However, I forget that there are people out there who looked at my game and think “I wish I could play like Ash”.

It’s something we do in business as well.  We look at other people, at their businesses and compare our progress to theirs.  When we know nothing about them.  All those overnight successes that went through 15 years of failure.  We only see the finished article and want to be there.  Now.  We don’t see the sleepless nights, the cash worries, the challenges with staff.  We want shortcuts.  We want now. 

Learning and modelling other people’s success and the work they did and do to succeed is healthy.  Comparing yourself unfavourably when you have no idea what they’ve been through is not. 

The only person it’s worth comparing yourself to is who you were yesterday and who you want to be tomorrow.  Holding yourself up to others you perceive to be better than you lead to self-doubt and a lack of self-worth.  You’re on your own journey.  You’re not running someone else’s race (or walk) so be the best you, you can be.  Don’t catch the “comparisonitis” disease because it is a disease. You’ll only end up feeling slow and left behind. 

And remember, there are thousands out there who look at you, everyday and think “I wish I could have a business like theirs


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