“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
As we come to the end of a decade and roll into 2020, the year where many aspire to “Boss Their Life Up,” through the culmination of dreams, plans, and hard work. 2020 is the year many are not wishing will be life-changing instead, are being intentional about ensuring it’s their year.
In the November article, I discussed the power in the phrase “I Am,” an integral part of making my own 2020 goals a reality. Also, sharing that there is no definite timeline between saying the words “I Am,” and it coming to fruition.
Nonetheless, in the final monthly article of the decade, as we gear up for our individual 2020 journeys, I saw it fitting to address and attempt to remove any seeds of comparison in my spirit.
So that whatever I declare as my “I Am,” I’m not comparing the speed at which I achieve it with friends, family, or social media influencers.
“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” — Iyanla Vanzant
2012 Freshmen Class
In Fall 2011, my senior year of high school was off to the races, and reality was beginning to sink in. In just a year, I would be a freshman on someone’s campus.
At the start, I had no idea that the college admissions process which I was getting ready to embark on would stretch me beyond my academic comfort zone, and that I’d endure a broad spectrum of emotions ranging from frustration to excitement.
With 5,300+ colleges in the USA, I drastically reduced my options with two requirements. 1) located in DC and, 2) no foreign language requirement. With that, I made my list.
Number one through five was Georgetown University. It was my dream school. It had a Top 10 business program, was prestigious, and met both of my requirements.
I knew it was a reach. I didn’t meet the GPA or SAT requirements. But I still believed I could get in. My belief was not based entirely on my ability instead that three years prior, my sister was accepted to her #1 school, Columbia University, becoming the first person in our school history to attend an Ivy League.
Although I didn’t have my sister’s GPA or SAT score, Georgetown’s requirements were lower than Columbia’s, so I figured that it would all balance out. From the moment I decided that Georgetown was my number one, I remember praying every night, saying, “God, please let me get into Georgetown. You got Lindsey into Columbia, which was her 1st choice, so I know you can get me into Georgetown.”
I thought that since God got my sister into her dream school, he’d do the same for me.
And so I submitted my application in January. Then a month later, in February, I had an interview. It was with a black lady, and it went pretty good. It seemed like it was all coming together. I was Georgetown bound.
So on March 28th, when I came home to a letter from Georgetown in a standard envelope, I began to panic. I instantly knew this couldn’t be good. A regular letter typically represented rejection.
Hoping that it was not the case, I opened the letter, and it said, “Following a careful consideration of your application, I am sorry to inform you that it will not be possible to offer you a place in the first-year class.”
Entering the kitchen after I opened the letter, my dad attempted to console my crushed spirit with “it’s ok.” Not feeling that same sentiment, I walked up to my room, put my head in my pillow, and shed a few tears. I remember thinking how unfair it was that my sister was able to get into her dream school, and I wasn’t.
“Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.” ― Regina Brett
In life, sometimes, our plans align with our journey. In my case, it did not. My journey required attending GWU. At the moment, as the tears rolled down my eyes, it was hard to see that. So much so that when my GWU acceptance came two days later, I wasn’t excited. And while joy overflowed my parent’s heart, comparison had stolen mine.
Currently, some of us are mad at God, our parents, or a boss because our plan did not align with our journey. And the hurt is not only rooted in disappointment but entitlement. Comparison led me to believe that I deserved to get into my number one school. Not because it was a necessary part of my journey; instead, so that my college acceptance story was the same as my sister’s.
But we can’t view people or a portion of their journey in isolation. Everyone is a packaged deal. Meaning we must also take on their struggles, pains, and problems. And I did not want the pain my sister faced with going to her number one school.
If You Must Compete
Compare Yourself To Who You Were Yesterday, Not To Who Someone Else Is Today.” — Jordan B. Peterson
Finally, outside of my sister’s seemingly boundless shadow, going to college was a fresh start. No one knew me, and I didn’t know anyone. For the first time, I was just Nathan, and it was liberating.
Although I didn’t receive self-validation from my grades, growing-up, it felt like the people whose opinions I cared about used them as a measuring stick. Creating this weird paradox where I didn’t bother to compete academically with my classmates, but still cared about people’s perception of me academically.
Transitioning to GWU, an environment with no preconceived expectations because of my sister, led to internal competition. Getting involved in programs like MLT, SEO, and Inroads allowed me to channel my competitive nature positively. Meeting Black and Latino business students from across the country created distant competitors. The healthy distance resulted in inspiration and admiration rather than jealousy and envy.
Nonetheless, if you must compete and compare channel it correctly, a healthy comparison results in inspiration. It shows you what’s possible. And it pushes you to be your best self.
“Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first, it seemed like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare we want to see who or what is the best out of a specific collection of alike things.” — Brené Brown
2019 was a challenging and humbling year. As I reflect, I see that comparison was something I struggled with in various moments — specifically, financial comparison.
Many times I found myself upset with God. I felt he had led me to leave my corporate job, and yet here I was struggling financially. This year my credit score got worse, I halted paying back my student loans, and my savings and investments depleted.
I transitioned from being an asset to my family to a liability. Occasionally borrowing money from my siblings instead of giving it away. All the while, people whom I was doing better than in 2018, seemed to be passing me by.
“The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of ‘fit in and stand out!’ It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity, it’s be just like everyone else, but better.” — Brené Brown
A natural rebel, it’s funny that although publicly, I don’t want people to compare me to others. My private thoughts are often consumed by comparison.
For 2020, my goal is to be more comfortable and confident in my journey. To remember that I’m running my own unique race. And like James Ch 1 verses 2–4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
In closing, in addition to crafting thoughtful 2020 goals, also develop your own measuring stick. William Blake says, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” Thoughtful goals and a well-developed plan are useless if they get you to a place that someone outside of yourself defined as success.
Take these last days of 2019 and/or the first few days of 2020 to create dynamic goals that evolve throughout the year. Allow them to have enough flexibility that you can create freely, but enough structure that prevents comparing. Nonetheless, I wish you all a prosperous 2020. Let’s make the next decade the best decade!