December 21, 2021

Episode 18: Compare & Despair

You’re probably not like me. You’ve NEVER scrolled through LinkedIn and made all the titles and career progressions mean that your career is not advanced enough. You’ve certainly never thought “at my age, I should already be VP of this / started my company”. But in the unlikely even you’ve ever compared yourself and felt disappointed, you will enjoy this episode.

What you will discover

  • The cycle of comparison and its surprising purpose
  • Insights gained from comparisoin (when you know how to look)
  • What to do when you catch yourself comparing
  • How to know you’ve exited your comfort zone


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

Hi and welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people just like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo. For the past 7 or 8 years, I've used LinkedIn as a tool to keep in touch with my network.

So I read my LinkedIn feed every day and what used to happen is that I would read about the promotion of someone I know, or the title of someone I hadn't spoken to in a while. And I would get a pang of disappointment in myself, right in the middle of my chest.

That would launch me in a loop of thoughts about how I wasn't at the right level in my organization: I should manage more people. I should make more money. I should have a fancier title. I should be in charge of a P&L entity - a profit and loss entity, where the real business is done and not in a support function. If I really were any good, I would be at this or that level by now. And look at my age; and look at where I am; and this is the sign that I think I'm good, but I'm not good enough.

I have a new Yorker cartoon on my fridge that captures this brilliantly. Two people are watching the night sky and there's a stream of stars that form the words, "your friend just published her third novel!" and one of the persons says to the other, "it really makes you feel insignificant, doesn't it?"

So, when this would happen to me, I would spend a little while feeling disappointed in myself and then I would move to regret, for past decisions that didn't create the kind of result that I was hoping for. And I should have pushed myself more. And why didn't I do this or choose that back then.

And then I would move to bitterness about the chances I was never given; and how being a woman suddenly didn't serve me and how male colleagues would be more supported, or have less obstacles than me and how the whole thing was unfair.

And finally the forced movement of this well-orchestrated symphony is that I would end up feeling hopeless and defeated about the feasibility of me ever getting the type of position that I thought would define whether I was successful and competent and capable or.

This whole activity, it has a name: it's called compare & despair. So your version of compare & despair might be slightly different than mine. Maybe you add a little tad of jealousy or frustration, perhaps your cocktail includes a bit less victim mentality and has instead of bit of confusion and puzzlement over the state of your affairs. Or perhaps you end up daydreaming on how life could be if you landed that job as a VP or this or CEO of that.

Whatever it looks like for you, this whole thing is just another clever ploy of your brain to keep you safe and sound in your comfort zone. All this time, when you're in this cloud of smoke of comparing yourself and despairing and daydreaming, what you're not doing is setting yourself a clear goal and taking decisive action towards it.

I don't say this so that you can blame yourself for not doing that or mull over how condescending and cold I sound. That would also be creating more smoke for yourself to get lost in instead of taking action. I just want you to notice the hidden benefit of mulling over those bitter thoughts.

It has a cost of course, to compare and despair. It DOES feel very unpleasant. You DO experience all these unpleasant emotions like disappointment, defeat, powerlessness etc. But the hidden benefit is that when you're busy feeling this way and hating yourself, you don't have to do what your brain thinks would seriously lower your chances of physical survival.

I mean, you don't have to take the actions that will actually get you to your goal. Because if you feel miserable when you read on LinkedIn that your former colleague has now started her own company, or that your university friend is now Senior Vice President of business development of a company with 40,000 employees, or that your cousin is in charge of brokering deals of several hundred millions of euros.

What it really means is that this is probably something that you'd like for yourself. I don't mean that you would literally want to do the exact thing that your university friend does, but something in that direction probably. And if you were serious in defining what exactly in their success is something you'd like to create in your own life; and if you were then serious about taking steps to make it happen, you would need to seriously get out of your comfort zone.

So, let me say a little word about the comfort zone before we continue. This has got to be the worst name to describe something. There's nothing comfortable about the comfort zone.

It just means that it's, habitual; usual; familiar. What you have repeatedly experienced over and over. If you've experienced something many times and you're still alive, the brain believes that this is a safe thing to repeat. Your chances of survival are high. The brain likes that high chances of survival.

The brain is not designed to make you happy or fulfilled. The brain is there to keep us physically alive. Anything that has a high chance of keeping you physically alive is great in its books. So from that perspective, familiar situations are better than unknown situations; which is why, if you're used to quarreling with your colleague, it might feel awful, but it's familiar.

And so unless you take decisive intentional action to change this, your brain will continue to think the thoughts that lead to the quarrel in the first place, because you've quarreled many times and you're still alive. So, anyway, let's close this parenthesis.

I was saying that if you want to create the same kind of success that the people you're comparing yourself unfavorably to, you will need to take the kind of action that takes you well out of your comfort zone.

You need, for example, to apply for new jobs and go for interviews. And there's a high risk to be turned down and not to make the cut. Or you'd have to renegotiate your salary and argue why the value that you bring to the table actually deserves higher payment. Or you'd perhaps have to relocate to another country; or to be responsible for bigger deals ;or for the livelihood of more people.

You'd have to take decisions with higher stakes in environments that are even less clear than those that you deal with today; etc. And your brain really doesn't like that. It's actually completely against that. Because even though you're disappointed by your current position, well, from your brain's point of view, it's keeping you physically alive and that's all that matters.

So if the cost of keeping you safe in that position is to feel disappointed and bitter, well, seen from the brain's point of view, that's a small price to pay for the certainty of staying alive.

What I want you to remember from all of this explanation, is that when you compare yourself like this and despair, first of all: use this to identify what about the person's success is it that you wish you had for yourself? Is it the power they have? Is it the money? Is it the recognition they get?

Is it the increased freedom they might have in their new job? Is it the industry they work in which sounds really cool? Is it that you think it would be easier for you to believe that you're a good person if you had the material accolades to tell you so?

Identify what exactly you're disappointed or bitter about that you don't have in your life and make it your goal. We'll talk next week about how to set a goal. So that's a great thing you can start thinking about this week.

And then the second thing I want you to remember from today is that if you want this result in your life, you're going to have to get out of your comfort zone. And by definition, when you leave the comfort zone, you enter the discomfort zone. You start to experience all sorts of uncomfortable emotions. Like doubt - am I making the right choice? Is this really what I want from my life? I don't know how to achieve the goal I want to achieve.

Like fear - I don't have what it takes. I'm probably going to fail. I need to take this to a much higher level of quality before I release it.

Like defeat: this will never work. I just don't have the right qualification, resources, time, money, network, you name it.

Like self-pity; like resentment, powerlessness, overwhelm, stress, impatience, and many more other sorts of discomfortable feelings.

So you'd better make sure that you have a very clear idea of why you want to create this result so that you can keep on going and create resilience and grit and determination whenever you face obstacles on the way to your goal. And we'll speak more about this in the coming weeks, as I show you how to set and how to reach a goal.

If you found this episode helpful, go to my website - that's Excellent Rider in one word dot com - to get the episode notes. They're organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember. And I added powerful questions and exercises to help you apply these concepts to your specific situation.

And if you want to help the podcast, the best way is to share it with other people, either by leaving a review or by tipping a friend about it.

Thanks a lot for listening today. And remember that even when you can't get yourself to do what you want to do, even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops. And even when you don't believe it, especially when you don't believe it: you're not broken. You're not flawed. You're not jinxed. You're just learning how to be an excellent rider. There's no bad horses. Only untrained riders.

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