Stuck in the Cycle of Comparison
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I often wonder if there ever will be a moment in my life when I completely stop comparing myself to others. I probably haven’t lived a day where I haven’t had thoughts such as, “Her hair is so much nicer than mine” or “She’s so much skinnier than me”. These thoughts are often harmless because I’m not consumed by these passing comparisons and they often don’t last more than a few seconds in my consciousness. But there are comparisons which I make that last for much longer than a few seconds and cause me to feel frustrated and empty. These thoughts are less trivial and can range from, “Why can’t I have a boyfriend like her?” or “If only I had the same grades as her” to “Why can’t I get a job like him?” It was at one point in my life, that I allowed these comparisons to start dictating who I should be and what my priorities in life should be. That is to reach the point where I believed other people were. This left me chasing aimlessly and unsatisfied.

Comparison was especially pervasive in my academic life. Comparing my grades to other students in University seemed inevitable. Grades for every student in almost all classes were publicly available and students were ranked so that I knew exactly where I was in comparison to everyone else. I strived to be a good student and have a respectable GPA but I struggled miserably. I didn’t work hard in school because it was a personal goal to achieve my best. Instead, I strove to achieve high grades because I was always comparing myself to my classmates. I saw that my classmates were doing much better than me and I believed that their lives were perfect and they were fulfilled. They were all getting into the professional program of their choice and everything seemed to be working out for them. I always asked myself, “Why can’t my life be like theirs?”

I don’t mean to say that all comparison is negative. In fact I believe that comparison can sometimes be healthy as many standards we set for ourselves often have a basis in comparison. For example, if we aim to be within the top ten percent of our classes in order to gain scholarships there is no harm in this. Where comparison does become dangerous, is when we begin to define our self-worth in relation to this standard that we set for ourselves.

Previously, I had been a top student in high school and my first year of University but this was all falling apart. I identified myself as that hard-working student who was always able to achieve those high grades. After that semester, I didn’t know who I was anymore and asked myself, “who could I be if I was the bottom student of the class?” I felt like no one.

It took a while for me to realize that there was so much more to myself than my grades and more importantly, that I am a unique individual who God has created. The shift in realizing this did not come easily because in the eighteen plus years before I only ever knew myself in comparison to other people. However, I started to see myself as God sees me that is as a person who was made in His image to do work to His own glory which he has specifically set out for me (Ephesians 1:11). I realized that we aren’t defined by how much better or how much worse we are than others but as unique individuals who God knows us so intimately and sees all that there is to us.

Are you stuck in the cycle of constant comparison but left feeling unsatisfied? How is it that you are defining your own self-worth?

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2 thoughts on “Stuck in the Cycle of Comparison

  1. Erin FordErin Ford

    I totally struggle with comparison and this was a very thoughtful post to read! I usually feel like I’m the only one struggling with it – I think one thing I realized is that my perspective is so limited. Also that my worth is not found in other people or achievements but who God says that I am. Great read!

  2. Eric David Nielsen

    Hi Emily, I appreciate your honest reflection in this post. Could you flesh out more how your worth from grade performance is lessened by God? What practical difference does he make to your desire to get good grades?

    As for myself, I feel almost an innate tendency to base the worth of my achievements in relation to others’ achievements. For many years, I didn’t see how my relationship with God ought itself to challenge this paradigm of belief. Yet in being confronted more and more with the reality that through Jesus, God accepts me APART from my performance, this has been undermining my previous belief paradigm and the destructive effects of jealousy and insecurity that came with it.

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