Break Free from the Comparison Trap

by Alli Polin on April 18, 2014

Comparison Traps focus on the gaps and miss the good

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the things my kids will never have if we continue to live overseas long-term.  No summer camp, no religious community, no holidays with the grandparents, or vacations with the cousins, US History, Spanish classes, SAT prep or a prom.  I see an endless list of things that will “hurt” them because of their absence, but the truth is that I don’t know the impact any of it will have in the long-term.  I find myself teetering on the edge of the deep, dark, endless chasm of the comparison trap that I’m determined to avoid.

The one thing I do know with absolute certainty is that their childhood is a far cry from the one I had growing up outside of Philadelphia.  I need to remember that even if we still lived in the USA, my children’s lives would never be the same as mine.  They are not my mirror or appendage, but on their own unique, dynamic and exciting adventure.  Once and for all, I need to break free from the comparison trap in service of my happiness, health and relationship with my family.

Differences Are the Product of Evolution

Recently, my daughter asked me if when I was growing up I had a phone that attached to the wall by a cord.  She watched a TV show that had a corded phone on her iPad on Amazon Instant Video.  She couldn’t believe it when I told her, “Sure did!”  All I got as a response was, “Wow.”

I cannot predict the future, but here’s what I do know:

  • The future is coming.
  • Change is here.
  • Life will never be the same.
  • Every generation has their “corded phones.”

The question I’m left pondering is how do you and I learn to let go of our past to embrace the future without the baggage of constant comparison?  Maybe the truth is that we don’t need to let go but instead simply step mindfully into the present moment.

Mindfulness frees us from worry about better, worse or different and pulls us into what is right now. Stress proliferates quickly when you’re constantly stuck on the thought that different can only be worse.

Change Activates the Comparison Trap

Individuals and organizations have this flaw in common, assuming that change will strip all the best from the past leaving us with questionable remnants. That’s the heart of why companies talk a good game about innovation, a willingness to take risks and embrace failure, but so few do.  It’s painful to let go of the past and accept that someone else has a vision for the future and it’s darn good.

Things change, people grow and evolve, technology continues to leap in the blink of an eye, but some things are always the same no matter what generation we call our own; We all want to be seen, loved, and know we matter.  My kids may not grow up with Girl Scout cookies or big family Thanksgiving dinners, but they will have a childhood that’s uniquely theirs and they are deeply loved. Ultimately, the trap is focusing on the superficial when the similarities that bind us will be forever present.

How do you break the frame of the comparison trap and let go of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” for new possibilities?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass April 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

Comparisons can get the better of us sometimes. I see it when young moms compare the milestones that their babies reach compared to their friend’s babies. I see it when one leader is promoted and another wonders why they didn’t get the promotion. I see it when one consultant lands a big account that another consultant made the bid and didn’t get.

I have learned to look at my professional and personal worlds and embrace my strengths, gifts and reality and champion who I am. If one is happy in their choices then one must show up in a profound way and shout- “I choose to be here and I am going to learn and grow right from where I am.” Isn’t that what leading from wherever we are is all about!

Your adventure is extraordinary, Alli and you are a role model to all of us as to how to welcome change! Keep writing your stories as they help all of us be the leaders we were meant to be!

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 6:15 am

Right on, Terri! I have those friends that I literally need to gear up to call or see because it is a brag-fest filled with “my life is better, happier, more amazing than yours and here’s why…”

I also see that with people starting out on their small business journey. They do everything just like their role model or mentor yet success is… slower… less pronounced… different. That’s because it will never be the same – it’s not supposed to be!

Appreciate you and your wisdom, Terri!

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Samantha April 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

Alli…. no Girl Scout cookies!?!?

I”m sorry..but your children WILL be scarred for LIFE! (grins)

Great post. It’s a tough question. One we face on a daily basis.

A big part of it is a bit of a paradox at first. One that challenges me regularly. To avoid the comparison trap, we basically must learn to accept EXACTLY who we are and where we are IN the ‘here and now’. If we’re too busy not accepting it, we’re basically caught in resistance mode and it’s difficult to change where we’re using that energy to resist or defend ourselves.

People are going to be who they are regardless. They will think their way is the only way or the best way. They will think their version of success is THE way. Fill in the blank. It’s a daily thing.

We have to know who we are and accept what is and then less energy is spent getting caught up in other people’s comparisons, or our own. More energy devoted to the people that matter most and to dealing with what we truly need in life. (nutshell version! : )

Great post Alli.

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 6:34 am

You are speaking my language!! We are constantly either resisting our relationships (through comparison, getting frustrated and stressed etc) or being responsive. We can’t be responsive without seeing, feeling and accepting the truth of this moment.

I struggle, like most other people, with accepting the decisions of others when their behavior is not in alignment with my thoughts and views of the world. Creating the space for people to make their own decisions and pave their own path ultimately frees both of us up for a much happier life.

If you could see me reading your comment you’d see a lot of nodding going on!

Thanks so much, Samantha for sharing your insights here!

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Carl April 18, 2014 at 9:54 am

Hi Alli, very reflective post. Being an expat myself, I know first hand how easy it is to slip into the “that’s not the way WE do it” mode. Once we begin labeling things as “good” or “bad” based on the comparison, we’ve stepped onto a slippery slope.
I think the key is to allow differences to bring us together rather than isolate us.
If you take the ‘new’ traditions of Australia and blend them together with the ‘familiar’ traditions of the US, your kids are richer for the experience.

p.s. the Girl Guides of Australia sell ‘biscuits’ 🙂

Very best regards,
Carl
@SparktheAction

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 6:04 am

Hey! My daughter has been in Girl Guides for a year now and there has been no mention of biscuits! Hummmm. Probably for the best since it’s stressful on the parents that do most of the selling and here I can’t even force my family to buy them! LOL.

Being an expat is hard and easy, stressful and joyful, new and old all at once. I love to watch my children that bring a different perspective and incredible resilience and learn from them every day (and my big heavy bags filled with expectations get lighter every day too).

Many thanks for sharing your experience too!

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Joy Guthrie April 18, 2014 at 9:57 am

Admittedly, I have a hard time with this when it comes to how my grown children deal with money. It’s an area I just haven’t been able to get passed. It truly bothers me. Thanks for the reminder that experiences are not the same. Doesn’t mean better or worse, just different. Another great post Alli. Thank you.

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 6:36 am

Your honesty shows that you’re human – something I truly appreciate. It’s when we feel the struggle and choose to let people make their own decisions that our personal leadership really shines – as yours is now. I’ve been learning what it means to be bothered but let it go in service of my relationships. The letting go isn’t forgetting, it’s simply freeing.

Truly appreciate you, Joy!

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Tom Guthrie April 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

When my parents compared their experiences to what I was going on with me as I was growing up, I could at least relate to most of what they are saying. In other words, the comparison gap wasn’t too wide and the comparison trap wasn’t so deep. Your daughter’s reaction to the corded phone personifies the enormity of the gap between our experiences and the situation today’s kids (and young adults) find themselves in. Even more reason to avoid the “comparison trap”. Great post Alli!

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 6:44 am

Tom – Welcome!

The gap does feel wider than ever, doesn’t it? I wonder if that’s perception or reality? In the past 20 years, the world has changed dramatically – the way we interact, engage, consume information… It’s not better or worse but truly very, very different.

The comparison trap is an incredibly easy one to fall into. Thanks for sharing your experience too!

~ Alli

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LaRae Quy April 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Your children will have amazing memories of a childhood very unique. Sometimes what we don’t have are the very things that empower us.

I didn’t grow up with Girl Scout Cookies, either 🙂 But after a certain age, who cares? That is where maturity and a positive outlook makes all the difference.

The more experiences we have that are “out of the box” the more prepared we are for the unexpected in the future….

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Alli Polin April 21, 2014 at 5:58 am

LaRae – My children are building resilience and a world view that I would not change for a million dollars. Ultimately, putting ourselves in situations where we’re the “outsider” can teach us more about what’s going on inside of ourselves too.

Many thanks, LaRae!

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Christi Hegstad April 22, 2014 at 10:48 am

Wonderful post, Alli. We often don’t even realize how frequently we compare ourselves to others and what effect that has on our sense of joy and success.

I recently been heard an interesting perspective: don’t compare yourself to “your previous self,” either. For example, if you’re not as limber, fast, etc. now as you were 20 years ago, don’t dwell on it. Focus instead on where you’re headed rather than where you used to be.

Thanks for the insights!

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Alli Polin April 23, 2014 at 7:56 am

Christi,

Huge thanks for bringing a much needed perspective to this post! That’s really the essence of why I love coaching too – look forward and CREATE instead of dwelling on the gaps we get to create bridges to where we most want to go.

Great addition!

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Gilly April 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Alli, as a British expat living in the USA via Hong Kong, this post really resonated with me.

I have often lamented about what my children have missed out on that other kids have, being continents away from their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. On the other hand our nuclear family is incredibly close as a result, our kids having moved continents twice, have learned resilience and we have all had our lives opened up to many experiences others will never have.

For each loss, there has been a gain and our kids think they are very lucky. The ccmparisons are in our minds and so it is in our hands to choose to focus on the benefits rather than deficits. Our children have done it naturally, I have learned we need to follow their lead and see we’re lucky to have had the influence of 3 cultures – our family and friends from the UK and our international ‘family’ we have created.
Thank you so much for raising these issues and encouraging us to consider that comparisons can actually show us how lucky we are.
Gilly
PS I’d never heard of girl scout cookies before living here.I can hoard and ship them to you, now that I have been educated!!

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Alli Polin April 25, 2014 at 4:20 am

I love hearing about your experience, Gilly! Like a deep breath. It’s an amazing perspective and I need to remember the only one that’s doing the constant comparing is me – the kids are fully immersed in the present. Lucky for us, we live in the age of amazing technology and even this morning I went on Facetime with the kids and my parents and we talked about our day as if we were right next door.

I appreciate you, Gilly!

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