I saw an interesting quote on LinkedIn recently, which I’ll paraphrase the beginning here:

  • Barack Obama was 47 years old when his presidency started
  • Donald Trump was 70 years old when his presidency started

There is a 23-year difference between when these two presidents began their tenure. 23 years!

They both attained the same position of being president. Do you think Trump is concerned about being elected president at age 70, compared to Obama’s 47, a significantly younger age? Of course not – he had other goals and focuses earlier in his life, as did Obama. Obama “beat” Trump to the White House purely in terms of age, but this comparison is easy and wasteful. (Note: political undertones are not important for the purpose of this article).

I see many similarities to this comparison in the working world for all of us. Many people are hired with a group of 5-10 peers that are of similar age, background, and experience. Those peers are your comparison points and your competition. You want to make sure that anything they do, you also do, and do better. If your peers are getting promotions, you feel you need to get a promotion. If your peers begin to leave the company for other opportunities, you start to think: “Maybe it is time for me to leave for a different job.” These are natural actions and thoughts. But they are unnecessary and a waste of mental energy.

For my internship experience, there were about 25 interns. After the internship concluded there were 10 full-time job offers available. 15 interns were not getting full-time job offers. In actuality, this meant we were in competition. And with competition came comparisons, the most evident of which were found in networking meetings. When a fellow intern set up a meeting with a director-level employee, I made sure to set up at least one meeting with a director-level employee. If I set up a lunch with a VP, I saw other interns on my team setting up lunch with that same VP. 

Though all the interns wanted to be successful and get the full-time job offer, they truly did want to learn from more senior employees and their experiences through these networking meetings. But, the reality of these networking meetings was a “keeping up with the Joneses-like” comparison. We had to keep track of what other people were doing and make sure they weren’t getting an unfair advantage.

In an effort to compare ourselves to others, we lost track of the most important thing: doing better at our jobs.

We spent so much time thinking, discussing, and acting based on the actions of other people that we lost valuable time focusing on the projects at hand. We did not realize that none of that mattered. The comparisons were unnecessary because, at the end of the summer, the full-time job offers were extended to the interns who did an excellent job and went above and beyond, not the ones who met with the most people.

It is easy to let these comparisons consume your every waking moment. We are all people, which is one comparison point. We may work at the same place (another). We may be on the same team (another). We may have the same title (another). We may be the same age (another). The list goes on and on. You can always find commonalities with other people in order to compare yourself. But this is an unhealthy habit. Can’t we just celebrate our differences and be happy for others if they get a promotion?

The reality is, each individual has their own life, goals, and agenda. While you may want to get promoted to VP in three years, a peer who is at the same level and is the same age may want to stay in their role. Is that a problem? Absolutely not. There is no reason to look up or down at someone as a result of where they stand in their career. We are all different and are on our own track and timeline. 

While comparisons will always occur, keep them in perspective. You will only occupy your own mental energy if you chose to let comparisons creep into your mindset. Times change and people change. Focus on you and what you can control.