Are you playing the comparison game?

Last week, I wrote about a game that is a great metaphor for business ownership. This week, I want to take a look at a different kind of game. One that, if played incorrectly, can totally steal your joy not only in your business, but also in your personal life.

Are you playing the comparison game?

What is the comparison game?

Once upon a time, the comparison game was known as “keeping up with the Joneses.” A family might find themselves in a bit of friendly rivalry with their next door neighbors. When your neighbor got a new refrigerator, they scored a point. Then you bought a new car, and you were the leader in the game. There was never a “perfect” balance, but the odds were fairly even.

Television advertising made the game a bit more competitive. Marketing geniuses used our innate human desire to be seen as equals with others to promote the products they were charged with selling. We bought stuff we didn’t need in an effort to show we were “as good as” our neighbors. In some cases, we bought stuff we couldn’t afford to show we were “better than” our neighbors.

Today, the stakes in the comparison game are higher than ever. Our increased use of social media – which generally is only used to promote the things that are going well in our lives – has raised the competition to an almost unbearable level. Regardless of how well we are doing, we don’t have to look hard to find someone who appears to be doing better.

Additionally, business has become increasingly relationship-oriented. In order to have an “authentic” relationship with our customers, we are expected to “be real” and let them see us as a person. At the same time, we still must put our best foot forward. After all, who wants to do business with someone who is a mess?

How is the comparison game harmful?

While social media promotes “lies of omission” in our personal lives, the business world seems to promote “lies of commission.” Have you ever asked someone other than a close friend how business is going, only to have them answer,

“Business is horrible! Sales are down. My biggest supplier jacked up their prices 20%. All of my employees are lazy, and I haven’t taken a paycheck in three years!”

Probably not.

The comparison game is no longer a tool that encourages us to strive to be better. Instead, it has become an insidious lie that tells us we are not good enough. According to the game, we are doing everything wrong.

Who changed the rules of the game?

We did.

Somewhere along the way, we deduced – incorrectly – that we had to have the same “stuff” or success as others in our circle of influence in order to be successful. We have to act a certain way and be a certain type of person in order for our customers and clients to accept us. What we have failed to take into consideration is our circles have expanded exponentially. At the same time, it has become easier to hide the cards we are truly holding. We have tricked ourselves into believing only showing the positive aspects of our lives and our businesses is the way to win friends and influence people.

Should you stop playing the comparison game?

I’m not sure it is possible to stop playing the game completely, nor do I think it is completely healthy to do so. Surrounding yourself with the people you admire and want to be like is the best way to ensure your growth and success as a person and as a business owner. Just make sure you surround yourself with people of integrity. Ideally, you want to spend time with those who are honest about their losses as well as their wins.

Also, be mindful of your mindset. If you find yourself looking at what others have accomplished and feeling down – or, worse, if you change yourself or your business into something you no longer recognize to try to mirror them – you are playing the game to your detriment.

Finally, it’s okay to walk away from the game for a while. Turn off your social media, ignore some email newsletters, and get real about what you want instead of what you think you should want. The game will be waiting when you are ready to play again, and you’ll be a better player.

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