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October 23, 2019

Only One Comparison Matters

Fall 2019 Quarterly Newsletter

Author: Steve Stewart, CFP®, RICP®


Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This quote has always been one of my favorites because of its simple elegance in addressing something that affects all of us in many complicated ways. I have thought a lot about how comparison can be a double-edged sword.


On one hand, it is a healthy measure for helping us reach personal goals and staying aligned with our personal values. On the other hand, it can drive us to worry about things we have no control over and feed unwanted, unnecessary doubt about ourselves.


It can be nearly impossible to avoid comparing every part of our lives to everyone in today’s 24/7 instant world driven by social media. It seems that information (fact or fiction) is created, distributed, evaluated and judged all within the same second. There rarely is time for reflection and gaining perspective seems to be a lost art. So how do we gain perspective and balance in a world that has no time for it? How do we use comparison to enhance our lives and avoid the destructive impacts it can have?


Well, it seems to me that comparison can be a valuable tool when used internally to work on your personal habits and growth. It can primarily be used to measure your incremental progress toward reaching a goal. Looking at those gains creates positive energy to keep you moving forward along the path to your end goal. It will allow you to adjust and make smart decisions as you reach obstacles and setbacks.


The key to this perspective is that it keeps you primarily focused on the things you can control and who you are at your core. Conversely, turning that perspective outward and comparing ourselves to the things around us can be fraught with risk. For most of us, it is instinctive to want to be in the driver’s seat at all times. However, there will always be circumstances and forces that we simply cannot control no matter how hard we try. Comparing yourself to such external things is not fair and sets you up for failure.


If you feel overwhelmed or insufficient when you look at everything around you, bring your perspective inward. Make a list of all the things that you are grateful for and remind yourself of all the amazing things you have accomplished. Remember that the only comparison that matters is the one you create for yourself based on what you value the most.


This article was featured in our Fall 2019 Quarterly Newsletter available here:


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