A couple of weeks ago, I had professional business photos taken at my home. I always dread photos because I am not a natural smiler. Since I was a kid, when I posed for photos, I didn’t look natural—I always had a fake, forced smile (the photo above was taken at my aunt and uncle’s wedding. I had a fake smile even at four years old!). Typically, it takes the photographer fifty or more photos to capture a more natural smile of me (wine helps too).
I posted about my dislike of getting photos taken on Facebook, and several of my friends commented that I always look great in photos. The point is, I ONLY post the photos that look more natural. No one saw the back end of the photo shoot—the countless poses and angles and shots the photographer took—you only see what made it onto my website or Facebook page. There were over sixty photos, and only a handful were decent enough to share with the world. I’m not going to post the awful photos for the world to see. My friends saw the front stage—the one good photo that made the cut; not the backstage—the two-hour photo shoot of awkward poses and fake smiles.
It’s the same for many other things in life. We see the front stage of someone else’s life—the success, awards, well-behaved kids, or amazing vacations—but we don’t see the backstage—the pain, struggle, disappointments, and hard work. What we see is often carefully curated, or at least doesn’t reflect the back story or journey it took to get them there.
Have you ever felt behind where you want to be in your career or life? Have you ever compared yourself to others? In my work with leaders, this is extremely common—in fact, I don’t think I have ever met a human who didn’t compare themselves to others at times and feel deflated.
Even with all the personal development work I have done over the years, I still find myself falling into this trap at times. I see someone who is where I want to be and feel frustrated that I am not there yet. Can you relate?
There are a few problems with this thinking:
- We are so focused on the gap between where we are and where we want to be, that we feel deflated, discouraged, and helpless. This fuels our inner critic and keeps us stuck. When you feel stuck, one of the best things you can do is to look backward instead of forward. Looking back a few years, what have you accomplished? How have you specifically grown from where you were a few years ago? It’s more energizing and productive to think of how far you have come than how far you have to go. This keeps you in a positive mindset to keep working toward your goals (you are not ignoring the future and your goals; you are simply breaking the pattern of comparing yourself to others and feeling stuck in overwhelm because you aren’t *yet* where you want to be). Beware of Compare!
- We often don’t see what goes on behind the scenes of what it took for someone to get to where they are. We see their front stage. Perhaps there is a leader in your organization who you admire. This leader is highly respected and where you want to be—in an influential executive role with a great team. Our tendency is to focus on where that person is now rather than on what it took to get there. We don’t see the years of hard work, learning, mistakes, classes, certifications, and dedication that culminated to lead that person to where they are today.
- Even people who seem successful and have it all together have challenges. No one has a perfect life. The successful leader who has had amazing professional success might have challenges in their personal life. When we compare ourselves to others, we are comparing the good parts, not the challenging parts. We don’t have an accurate and full picture of someone’s reality, so we are deluding ourselves into thinking others have it better than us. This crushes our spirit and motivation.
Everyone has a back story. No one’s life is perfect and stress free. Stay focused on your own vision for your future and where you are going. It’s fine to gain inspiration from people who are where you want to be one day. But comparing yourself to their front stage will only fuel your inner critic and leave you feeling inadequate and insecure.
I believe we never reach our full potential in our lifetime. As we grow and achieve our goals, we create new goals that stretch our abilities and what we are capable of. It’s completely normal to fall in the trap of comparing ourselves to others or focusing on the positives others have in their lives. The key is to shift your mindset to use the information as inspiration rather than discouragement.
The best way to build confidence is to take action. Become clear about your vision, create a plan with smaller steps, and take the first step, then the next, then the next. Each time you accomplish a step, you are reinforcing to yourself that you can accomplish your goals. This builds your confidence each time, and before you know it, you are achieving your goals and creating your own success.