Don't compare yourself to others written on notepad

Comparison – the thief of joy

It’s human nature to make comparisons… in this wellbeing post, Lorna Savage, Internships & Work Experience Adviser, and Sarah Johnston, Link Careers Consultant for the School of GeoSciences, give valuable advice on how you can avoid unhelpful comparisons with peers and course mates.

 “Comparison is the thief of joy…” may have been words uttered by Theodore Roosevelt in the late 1800’s but in 2023, it’s just as relevant today. In the last two decades, comparing ourselves to everyone else has been intensified through the use of social media.

At the University’s Careers Service, we often hear from students feeling anxious to compete with their peers and course mates when it comes to career planning and gaining experience. Perhaps a course mate has been successful in getting an internship, has applied for many graduate schemes, or has a job lined up after graduation. This can leave others feeling behind or that they’ve missed out. It’s human nature to make these comparisons, but what can you do to avoid unhelpful comparisons? Here are some top tips to help you work towards achieving a healthy state of motivation and proactivity when it comes to planning your career.

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can

Sometimes when you see the achievements of your friends and peers, whilst feeling happy for their success, it can also feel a little overwhelming. This can at times lead to feeling that you aren’t achieving as much as you ‘should’ be. It can be hard to know where to even begin, especially if you have no idea what you want to do after University (which is totally normal by the way!)

That’s when it can be useful to remember the following quote:

     “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”

     (Arthur Ashe, tennis player)

We all have different starting points, and pursuing someone else’s path won’t likely lead to your own happiness and version of success. Instead, what can really make a difference to any feelings of helplessness or being overwhelmed is just to do something. Anything!

Starting with something small and manageable will get the ball rolling and break the feeling of paralysis. This could be exploring our Career Essentials guide to view our programme of live sessions, recorded content, and resources for you whatever stage you are at and however you want to engage. Or, it could be talking to one of those friends about how they got that internship that you’re interested in; they could have come across some other opportunities that could be good for you too.

Focus on your unique skills and strengths

You can counteract any tendency you may have to fixate on the achievements of others by making a conscious effort to focus on what strengths you have, and what you have already achieved. Even if you don’t feel you’ve made ‘proper’ progress towards figuring out and securing what you will do after university, remember that you already have lots of careers-related skills just from your course, and any part-time jobs, or society or sports roles you have. Look out for our Inform.ed blog next week which highlights the valuable types of work experience which are often overlooked by students on their CVs and applications!

It can sometimes be hard to articulate what your unique skills and strengths are. Spending time reflecting on what you’ve enjoyed most during your university course and in other areas of your life can be useful.

Often, others can see these more clearly than you can see yourself, so it can be useful to ask close friends, course mates or family members what they see as your key strengths and what they value in you. Our Strengths assessment is a short activity which can be a good starting point to helping you become more self-aware and appreciating what you have to offer.

Sometimes it’s just a case of recognising and being able to articulate all that you already have and building from there. The Careers Service has many ways to help you do this, such as how to identify and understand your strengths, skills and values, and factor them into your career planning. For more information, have a read of our Understand Yourself webpage.

The Edinburgh Award also allows you to get official recognition for your involvement with a wide range of extra-curricular activities, while also helping you to get the most out of these experiences.

Check out the variety of ways you can build experience

There are lots of different types of experience which are valuable to future employers, so don’t dwell on that internship you wish you’d applied for, or the things you haven’t done. Instead, try to focus on now and what will work for you. As previously highlighted, experience can be built up in so many different ways, such as volunteering, being involved with a society, a part-time job or proactively developing a new skill.  The University also offers many free mini courses you can use to expand your skills which can be worked on at your own pace. There are also lots of great schemes to build experience such as the Students as Change Agents Programme.

Find out more on our Build Experience webpage.

Set your own personal goals

Looking at what those around you are up to can be really positive; it’s fantastic to be able to lift each other up, celebrate each other’s successes and inspire and motivate each other to achieve our goals. But, don’t let what everyone else is doing make you feel like you are behind or ‘not enough’. Don’t let it take away your joy from all that you already are, what you have already achieved, and what you are capable of achieving.

Life isn’t a race: we each work at our own pace with unique commitments and considerations. To avoid putting unnecessary stress on yourself, look at what is achievable for you in your own set timescale. A plan with your own personal goals can keep you on track and focused on your own achievements rather than looking at what others are doing. It can feel great to achieve a goal you’ve set and to celebrate all wins, both big and small.

Lorna and Sarah are also members of our Wellbeing at Work Group – many thanks.

(Image credit: Bich Tran from Pexels)


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