Don’t Compare, Don’t Despair

Antidotes to Comparing Yourself With Others

Bowie Yin Sum Kung
4 min readFeb 27, 2024
Photo of 4 children wearing muddied boots by Ben Wicks on Unsplash.

Growing up, many of us have been compared to other kids. Parents and teachers unconsciously (or worse, consciously) compare us with our siblings or fellow classmates. Comparing doesn’t end on the playground or at home; it extends to institutions. For example, grades are how schools compare us, in order to determine our abilities and slot us into the according learning levels, deciding for us what we are capable of. Job seekers go through multiple rounds of assessments and interviews, and are compared to hundreds others applying for the same position. It is difficult to shake off something that has been so deeply ingrained in our society and our minds, something so seemingly useful to the functioning of a productive economy.

Comparing and competition beget each other. Competition comes from a scarcity mindset. The world becomes a place to be exploited, ‘resources’ to be extracted, and other people to be overcome.

Thankfully, there are ways to unlearn these unhelpful and unhealthful patterns of relating to others.

1. Practise Mettā meditation

Photo of a wooden mural of hands with hearts and phrases like ‘love and kindness are never wasted’ by Ditto Bowo on Unsplash.

Mettā is a Pali word meaning ‘friend’. Also known as loving-kindness meditation in various Buddhist lineages, it cultivates understanding, compassion, and empathy. The meditation may involve repeating these phrases silently: ‘including all beings and excluding none, may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be liberated, may you be healthy, may you be free from all pain’.

For those who need scientific data to be convinced, regular loving-kindness meditation (no matter the length of practice) has been shown to bring about positive emotions and better coping for difficult emotions that involve interpersonal relationships, such as social anxiety, loneliness, conflict, and anger.

Wishing well upon others naturally diminishes feeling of competition, of insecurity, of the need to be superior to others.

2. Value (self-)compassion over (self-)esteem

Being constantly compared to other people means our self-worth is constantly under attack. We have plenty of reasons to feel like we’re not enough. There’s always someone smarter, prettier, stronger, richer, faster, more successful. Our self-worth plummets. Here comes the self-esteem movement. However, the problem with pursuing high self-esteem is that it creates a culture of competition, comparing, even narcissism. It’s not enough to be average — no, we must be special.

The alternative to pursuing high self-esteem is nurturing self-compassion. It’s healthier for ourselves and for society to cultivate common humanity, rather than a sense of being special or unique. Self-compassion recognises the imperfection that is the human condition. It is an inward journey. It doesn’t rely on external positive evaluations or judgements. Research shows that self-compassion offers the same benefits as self-esteem (less depression, greater happiness, etc.) without its downsides, such as sense of isolation, separation, and constant need to climb the self-esteem ladder.

Hear Dr. Kristin Neff explain her work on self-compassion:

3. Decolonise your mind

Photo of Salmon jumping upstream by Denley Photography on Unsplash.

Comparing comes from a fragmenting mindset. When you start to see everything, everyone, and every human as part of a whole, there is no point in comparing. Comparing fuels the capitalist, colonial machine — a one-minded machine focused on maximising production that leaves a path of destruction (of nature, of life, of diversity, of self-worth, etc.). By basing our self-worth on ever-changing, arbitrary, (and whimsical) external benchmarks set by mainstream society, we could never be enough.

A fish wouldn’t think to compare him/herself with a bird, nor a mango with an orange. The true quest lies in finding our true purpose in a living system and valuing ourselves as we are; a fish has merits just by being a fish. It is not a good or a bad fish. A salmon swims out into the ocean, survives, and returns annually to lay eggs. She serves her purpose in a living system.

Decolonising your mind means unlearning colonial lessons. And there is much to unlearn. It means freeing those ingrained beliefs of scarcity, fragmentation, and competition that produce transactional and extractive relationships.

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Bowie Yin Sum Kung

I write about regenerative practices, climate and social justice, decolonial and alternative economies, economies that heal, and the wonders of nature.