We’ve all heard that “comparison is the thief of joy” and let me tell you –I’ve been robbed! As a graduate student and graduate assistant, I am constantly comparing myself to my peers, colleagues, and friends (whether I mean to or not). Between internship offers, scholarships, awards, and co-curricular activities, everyone in the program is doing something GREAT. But am I keeping up? What if I’m the only one in May without a job offer or what if I’m not invited to present at a national conference this year? Surely I’m doing something wrong because I’m not keeping up with the other incredible individuals that sit next to me in class or work in the building next door. I fit in a yoga class last night – does that mean I’m not busy enough?!
I am as guilty as the next person of comparing myself to those around me, and usually it’s because they’re doing impressive things like graduating early to accept a dream job offer or being elected to serve on state and regional committees; real “day in the life” kinds of things. But how is all of this comparison affecting my own performance? We’re taught from a young age that we all bring special and unique skills and talents to the table and now, more than ever, I’m beginning to understand why we need to be reminded of that often. When we learn to acknowledge our own strengths and weaknesses we are better able to capitalize on those skills and to seek support and guidance for the things that we are struggling with. When we are able to accept that there is no “Winner of Graduate School,” we are better able to appreciate and recognize our colleagues and peers for their great accomplishments and be rewarded for our own valuable contributions as well. It won’t happen over night, but we’ll all be much happier and more satisfied with our progress in class and at work if we try these four simple steps to avoiding comparison:
1. Know your value. We’re all great at certain things and not-so-great at others. Make a list of your top strengths and ask friends and supervisors for their input. You’ll feel great when you recognize where your talents truly lay.
2. Give yourself credit. It’s okay to be excited when things go your way and you receive a well deserved promotion or have an article published in a national magazine. Go celebrate because you deserve it!
3. Compliment others. The flip side of #2 is that you need to celebrate the accomplishments of your peers and colleagues as well. Chances are you can learn something valuable from their successes to help you in your own professional and personal journey. Nobody likes the jealous, sullen grad school friend.
4. Collaborate. Work with as many different types of people as you possibly can during your time in graduate school and beyond. Would it be better and more fulfilling to coauthor a chapter in a published book or to turn down the opportunity because you have to share the glory? Case and point. Plus, you will inevitably learn something from your partnership that will benefit you down the road!