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Myth #1: Don't Compare Yourself Against Others

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

(Myth - a widely held but false belief or idea)

Get used to be being compared.

  • You'll be compared approximately 164,250 times over your lifetime.

  • You'll be compared against others based on your behavior, appearance, ideas and achievements.

  • You'll be compared based on six second's first impression of you (see "thin slice" study by Dr. Nalini Ambady) as well as on years of familiarity with you.

  • You'll be compared fairly sometimes, unfairly often.

Good Intentions, but...

While reassuring, telling young adults to avoid comparing themselves against others can lead them to develop a distorted and dangerously naive view of the competitive real-world of work. They become over-confident, complacent and as a result, they prematurely curtail growing and working hard.

In order for young adults to navigate the complex world of college and career, they need a clear, current and comprehensive map of the opportunities, the dangers, and the competitors. They need to know what "excellence" is in the real-world, not just in their classroom in their town, in their state, in their country.

They face smart, driven competitors from every corner of the globe and soon from Artificial Intelligence (AI). They need to ask themselves "why would an employer or founder choose me over every other competitor or an algorithm?"

Most young adults have not met enough people or traveled to enough places to know what world-class excellence looks and sounds like. A few might have a glimpse of this, if they have achieved world-class excellence in a very narrow domain of life such as swimming, chess, violin, karate, math.

But most young adults under-estimate their competitors in the college and career, because most young adults have not been exposed enough to world-class competitors in complex real-world situations such as managing a project, founding a start-up, negotiating a partnership, over-turning a law, creating a movement.

This is why most young adults experience "imposter syndrome" as freshman in a top college. They are stunned by how smart, driven and capable their peers are. When my brother started as a freshman at Brown University, he wrote me that "everybody here is somebody, so nobody is anybody." He had been a standout student at one of the top public high schools in the country and class president, yet he suffered imposter syndrome.

Better Way

  1. Ask young adults, "who else is working on this topic or competing for this goal?"

  2. Ask young adults, "how good is your work compared to theirs?"

  3. Ask young adults, "what can you learn from your competitors?"

New Words

Instead of encouraging young adults to avoid comparison, let's encourage them to acknowledge that to succeed in college and career, they must compete successfully with world-class competitors from around the globe. And to stay humble enough to learn from and draw inspiration from world-class competitors.

Compare with World-class Competitors


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