Comparing ourselves to others isn’t a recent phenomenon — it’s part of our culture. Just think about it: As soon as we’re able to form thoughts and opinions, we start comparing. Who’s taller? Who’s better at sports? Who has more friends?
Unlike other childish habits, the urge to measure up doesn’t ever really go away. In fact, some would argue that it only intensifies when we become teens. On top of comparing ourselves to classmates and siblings, there are outside forces too: celebrities, magazine covers, TV, advertisements and movies.
“At a younger age, (having seen) the things that were portrayed in popular music groups, famous celebrities or older peers on social media, I found myself wanting to be them and wondering why I wasn’t like them,” said Von Steuben junior Michael Torres. “So I began doing what they did in order to fit in with my own peers and maybe gain some of the popularity they had.”
“We are flooded with the message that we should compare ourselves to others. Magazines, advertisements, stores — it becomes all about what other people have or what they’ve achieved,” said Terry Diebold, author of “The Myth of Self-Esteem: 50 Ways to Stop Sabotaging Yourself.”
Social media adds another layer to the problem. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram offer a constant stream of updates about the people around us. She got accepted to Harvard? With a scholarship? He bought the brand new Nikes? They’re dating?
“The perception is that if I go on Facebook and read about how wonderful everyone else is, and I’m not feeling good about myself, it’s going to make me feel worse,” said Mike Robbins, a regular contributor to oprah.com and author of “Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.” “We compare our insides to other people’s outsides, and we usually don’t feel like we measure up.”
Essentially, these updates can shape the way we see ourselves. If we don’t measure up, we feel insignificant or behind.
“Teens are very self-conscious and (we) tend to compare ourselves to each other very often, and it has become much more apparent with things like Facebook or Twitter,” said Lane Tech junior Kayla Martinez. “I try not to let things like that affect me, but in the modern world of technology it’s hard not to take notice of what others are doing, and sometimes you want to be just like them.”
Before you get caught up in the comparison game, keep in mind one very important detail: When it comes to social media, we often present only the things we want people to see — the good fortunes, happy moments, delicious desserts and best smiles.
“The deeper question is: Are people really posting things on social media that are true or are they simply doing it to present something to other people?” Robbins asked. “It’s what we do in our culture: ‘Look how great I am,’ ‘Look how smart I am,’ ‘Look how accomplished I am,’ ‘Look how happy I am,’ and sometimes that’s true, but in a lot of cases, it’s not.”
While comparing ourselves to others can inspire us to get ahead and work harder, it can also drive us crazy. Next time you find yourself wondering if you measure up, remember this:
“(Our belongings and accomplishments are) not a measure of who we are,” Diebold said. “We already have worth as an individual when we’re born. Everything else is what people think of us.”
Advice to go
1. Don’t ignore jealous feelings. It’s tough, but admitting to yourself that you’re jealous of someone else can help you let go of those hard feelings.
2. Realize that someone else’s success doesn’t take away from your own. Just because someone else succeeds at one thing doesn’t mean you won’t succeed at all. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone.
3. Give yourself a break. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Because of that, you can’t be good at everything. Learn to accept yourself.
4. Find happiness everywhere. Stop thinking that you’ll only be happy when you finally measure up to that one person. Be enlightened by the path to your own success.
5. Celebrate the little victories: Oftentimes, we measure our worth with big, momentous events. Stop it. Celebrate the little accomplishments too—it will make you a happier person.
This article was written by teen reporters Kathryn Cua, Hinsdale Central, and Joe Hendix, Williams Prep, from The Mash, a weekly publication distributed to Chicago high schools.