Individual success not measured by comparison with others

I’m a quote junkie, and one of my favorites is from author Jon Acuff: “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

I think this is particularly important for college students to remember. Since we’re all studying and working towards future careers, it appears that we’re all in relatively the same spot or at least on the same progressive path, whether you’re a freshman, super senior or anywhere in between.

Despite this, however, the truth is that we all aren’t in the same spot. Each one of us is in a different place in our journey, whatever that journey may be, and in many cases comparison only breeds complex feelings of inferiority.

Just because it appears that someone is super successful and has their life together doesn’t mean that is the standard you should be comparing yourself to. That might be their “middle” – they started that part of their journey a long time ago – while you might just be beginning.

Another one of my favorite sayings is, “Measure yourself only against your previous self.” What’s important to consider is where we are on our individual journeys and what progression has been made in that regard, rather than looking at how we compare to others.


In our college culture of constant busyness, substantial extracurricular involvement and heavy course loads, comparison is more prevalent than ever.

It’s so easy to look around and compare – fields of study, after-graduation plans, campus involvement, number of friends, relationship status, course loads, job quality, the list goes on and on. Doing this, however, only trivializes our own accomplishments and sets impossible standards that might not be appropriate for individual situations.

How far you’ve come as an individual is more important than how your activities and accomplishments compare to those around you. We all look at success in unique ways, and it’s crucial to strive towards our own goals rather than ones set out by society.

For some, being involved in multiple organizations, taking the maximum amount of credits, being active in student government or participating in competitions is what is important and equals success. For others, joining a sorority or fraternity, volunteering regularly or creating art, music or literature are significant goals.

The point I’m trying to make is that we all define success differently, which makes comparing levels of success completely ineffectual. Rather than looking at what others are doing and seeing if our actions are up to that standard, we should be setting individual goals and comparing our progress to those.

I understand (and agree) that for many, comparison is a motivating factor. It might provide the inspiration needed to push yourself further, maybe get that job you’ve been hoping for or reach that goal. If that works, then that’s awesome. But I’ve found that in many cases, it does not serve such a positive purpose, and it’s important to consider the personal expense of engaging in such comparison.

Being happy with yourself, your journey and how far you’ve come is not about how you compare to others. Self-esteem comes from knowing that what you’re doing is what’s good for you — and comparing your actions, words or feelings to others is not the way to achieve that.

To finish with another quote, often attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

It’s important to find joy in your own journey, and to not let the steps that others are taking make the path you’re walking seem any less worthy.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 17th, 2014 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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