The curse of comparison.
It was probably the biggest waste of time in the beginning of my career.
When I was a new manager, my peers and I were forever distracted by a fellow manager, Mark, who was an unabashedly ambitious.
There was always buzz about something he had done.
Then one day Mark's self-promotion backfired.
All new managers had been invited to lunch with a visiting VP, Gary. Gary was the highly respected guardian of 9 enduring high performance design principles. When the Q&A session opened, Mark asked Gary which was his favorite principle out of the 9.
Gary turned the question around and asked Mark to name his.
Mark hesitated and then invented 2 principles.
The gaffe was obvious. The managers were abuzz. Finally, a public misstep, and his mishap validated our collective opinion that Mark was a self-promoter.
We talked about it for weeks.
But at the end of the day, it didn't matter.
Within a year Mark was promoted ahead of the rest of us, and a few short years he later left the company. I hear he is a CEO now.
I wonder how many hours I spent focused on someone else's choices and success.
My friends and I drained a lot of our capacity fixated on something we couldn't control, and on little things that didn't impact our success. Just imagine if those hours had been focused on ourselves and not on someone else.
I eventually learned that you can't drive your career forward if you're constantly comparing yourself to others, and spending more time worrying about their success than your own.
Is the curse of comparison driving your career off track?
Kick the habit by asking yourself these 5 questions
What's MY plan?
I spent a lot of time talking about Mark's plan, but guess what, I didn't have my own. Complaining about someone else doesn't get you any closer to your career goals.
But a solid career plan will.
Before you spend any more energy worried about someone else's advancement, try channeling that back to yourself.
What should I do differently to be more competitive?
If you're going to compare yourself to someone else, turn that effort into positive change.
I didn't like how Mark promoted himself, but instead of finding a more effect way of promoting myself and my work, I complained about him instead. I should have spent time understanding what he was doing well and then re-applying it to myself.
Self promotion is an important skill that I eventually learned to master, and I too got promoted.
Does it matter?
Sometimes it really doesn't what the other person is doing. Especially if they are moving on, or if you are moving out.
Sometimes the best course of action is to let something go.
Am I prepared to pivot?
I have coached many, many people who spent a lot of time asking why another colleague got ahead. And while I don't like to use comparisons when I coach, I do point out some general observations.
I had a direct report Greg, who was bitter about the success of another colleague, John. So I pointed out some very visible differences: John was willing to move, and had moved several times. Greg was not. John also worked very hard at reaching out to his mentors which you could see by the broad recognition he received. Greg thought mentors should initiate a coaching relationship.
Greg was talented, but he had an entitled attitude, and his unwillingness to pivot showed up in a lack of advancement.
Do I really want what the other person has?
Looks can be deceiving. Sure there may be more exposure to the executive team. But there's probably a lot more stress too. Don't just cherry pick what looks like fun, evaluate the whole picture.
Successful people sacrifice a lot to achieve their goals. Ask them what it took to get there, and what it takes to stay at the top. Then ask yourself if you're really willing to pay the price.
Comparison is inevitable.
But it doesn't have to be a bad habit.
Don't let comparison become a curse that throws your career off track.
Spend your time focused on achieving your goals, and there will be no comparison needed.
This post originally appeared on Evoke.pro in March 2014
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Photo / Clement Soh: World's Greatest on flickr