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Inspiration vs. Comparison

Yesterday I wrote about the dangers of comparing yourself to other people. I said, “Comparison leads to arrogance or shame, but never happiness.”

A number of people responded and said things like, “but what if it inspires you to step up your game? What if it makes you say, ‘If so-and-so can do it, so can I?'”

I think the feedback I got helped me see something important, there’s a big difference between inspiration and comparison.

Seth Godin inspires me. The way he writes, the way he communicates his view of the world, the way he takes risks inspires me.

Robin O’Bryant inspires me. I wrote about her in my new book Do Over because when she was told “no” by every publisher she didn’t give up. She self published, sold her books out of her trunk and eventually hit the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Those are two, of the many, people who inspire me, but inspiration is not the same thing as comparison.

Let’s look at some of the differences:

Inspiration tells you anything is possible. Comparison tells you everything is impossible.

Inspiration fills you up. Comparison empties you.

Inspiration drives you forward. Comparison pulls you backward.

Inspiration tells you there’s still time to accomplish something amazing. Comparison tells you it’s too late.

I wish I could give you an exact formula or a canary in the coal mine that made it obvious when you’ve left the world of inspiration and entered the land of comparison, but I can’t.

I can just tell you how it works for me.

When I am inspired by others, I want to clap for them. I am able, with an honest heart to cheer their accomplishments. When I get stuck comparing myself to others, I want to criticize them. I am not happy for their accomplishments, I am jealous of them. I misinterpret their success as a reflection on me. (If you’re looking for a definition of “narcissism,” just use that last sentence.)

Want to escape the comparison trap? It’s easy.

Celebrate others. Clap loud. Cheer for somebody else when you get the chance. (And you always have the chance.)

Criticizing people is easier than celebrating them. But one leads to jealousy and one leads to joy.

I hope you find people who inspire you. The world is full of them, but when you do, don’t let your inspiration mutate into comparison.

Inspiration is a gift. Comparison is a curse. And each day we get to choose which we’ll embrace.

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

23 Comments

  1. Jesse Moore

    Thanks for that, Jon. Always a great reminder to cheer for others as they meet their goals!

  2. You are constantly “pushing” me in my endeavors by reminding me to keep on keeping on! I love how this article reminds me to stay focused on others rather than myself. Comparison, for me, is completely self-centered. Whey I celebrate others, I am also more “other-focused”, which is a happier, more productive place for me to be 🙂

  3. Another awesome post. I love the Facebook groups that you’ve set up. So many people achieving their goals. They are not only are inspirational, but they are all saying, “Come along with me! You’ve got this! I will help you!” It’s an amazing movement to belong to. With out it, I am not sure how I would have made it this far. Thanks again Jon!

  4. One of my top strengths is competition. Naturally, along with competition comes comparison. It is so hard to not cross that fine line of healthy competition and unhealthy comparing yourself with the successes and abilities of others. That is the point when a competitive spirit becomes a weakness and hinders the dreams that you are perusing. A lesson that I am humbly learning! Thankful for the honesty that is within all of your books. Just finished QUITTER today! Thank you for sharing ideas.

  5. This is a great reminder. I almost stepped into this trap this morning but instead of comparing myself to this person I thanked God for the spiritual gifts they have been blessed with and then thanked God for creating me in his image and has cast me in the starring role of my life.

  6. Jon,

    Great job building on yesterday’s post. I like how you articulated the difference between comparision and inspiration. I suppose comparision happens when you are selfish and want what the other person has, while inspiration happens when you are selfless and looking to pass that inspiration on to others.

    Thank you for building on yesterday’s post!

    Jesse

  7. Love this message today. It is one of the hardest lessons, but brings so much reward. Practice inspiration. It will change your life.

  8. This is one of the things I’m trying really hard to do this year: to cheer on anyone who is stepping out of their comfort zone to do something scary. I want to be known as the guy who encourages others.

  9. Thanks for the reminder Jon. Just wanted you to know that you inspire me!

  10. I misinterpret their success as a reflection on me. = narcissism. So stinkin’ profound (says the girl who was looking at other people’s #s on Amazon last night and wallowing.

    Thank you for this post.

  11. A great follow-up to yesterday’s post.

    I published a post on my blog today about the unexpected perks of putting your best foot forward. I think besides cheering others on, it’s good to always have the best intentions (whether or not you get the job like in my example) and lead with an open and generous heart.

    In case you want to give it a read: http://horkeyhandbook.com/unexpected-perk-putting-best-foot-forward/

  12. OH my – another gem in your treasure trove, Jon! #HUGSSSS You have beautifully elucidated the seemingly subtle – but truly significant – differences between comparison and inspiration. I am usually residing at the C extreme, but I recently confessed my ‘jealousy’ towards a good friend, and already feel liberated! hhahahaa

    Now we can enjoy each other without malice! <3

    Yes: comparison enervates while inspiration ENERGIZES!

    #HUGS Thanks again <3

    Kitto

  13. Two great posts! I have been working on a similar post for my blog, but you beat me to it. YOU inspire me :)!

    I think it helps to be aware of those who naturally inspire you and those who can bring out the worst in you – drag you into comparison and despair. In that place we’re living out of a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance and we need to ask ourself “why?”. What am I afraid of? Why do I feel threatened?

  14. Nicole

    What a great message!! This is something I. Wry much needed to read. Thank you for your inspirational words!

  15. Heather

    Love the post, always a great to get a reminder about the dangers of comparison.

    Something I learned a few years ago that really helps me with comparison (my own insecurity) is prayer. When I find myself envious of someone else or beginning to feel the seeds of jealousy, I try to remember to pray for them. It changes my heart towards them, removing the fleshly desire to criticize them and helps me learn to celebrate others. It also allows me to see that they too have failures and limitations with a heart of compassion instead of pride.

  16. Jana

    Such a GREAT post! Thank you!! Another difference between Inspiration and Comparison that I thought of after pondering what you wrote…

    Comparison says “I wish I could…”
    (Then we tell ourselves we never can or will.)
    Inspiration says “I want to….” (Then we have the inspiration and motivation to do our thing!)

    Comparison is a hindrance, but inspiration is an impetus to action.

    Your posts inspire many people to do their thing. Thank you again!

  17. Jon, this is a great comparison between inspiration and comparison! I really appreciate your clear thinking on this. I think that they are really 2 sides of the same coin. For me, the canary in the coal mine that would indicate that I have entered into comparison would be if I am feeling discouraged, hopeless, or like it’s too late to accomplish something. I have seen myself growing in the ability to identify when this is happening, and do something about it instead of getting stuck. I really appreciate you putting this into words, and being able to read it and relate with so many others on this subject.

  18. Well said John. You inspire me. I share your stuff to friends…and they’re inspired by you.

    I think one thing to add is that comparison is dark, occult, and blood sucking. It lies under the breath of criticism, and hides behind your thoughts of esteem. It destroys rather than build. When we compare, we keep it to ourselves. When we’re inspired, we just have to let the world know.

  19. Well said! I enjoyed reading your words and was inspired by it! 🙂

    I love the emphasis in cheering for other people. It seems like all our social media and internet world too often causes the focus to lean towards comparison instead of rejoicing for others and embracing our unique lives and situations.

    I don’t why it’s so easy for me to forget that I have the choice to cheer instead of compare!

  20. Joy

    This is a new thought to me. Just goes to show, you can ” teach an old dog a new trick” .

  21. Jon, Thanks for this note.

    I always tell my kids: “ There are two types of people in this world, those that lift others up to their level and those that bring people down to their level.” (every good talk from a Father should begin with a “There are two types of people” reference.)

    I think this corresponds to your message in that when we look at (or up to) others for inspiration we acknowledge their good qualities and we try to rise to their level. When we compare ourselves to others we really try to look down at them as if to say “I can’t rise up to your level, so I will bring you down to mine; thereby making you less threatening and helping me to feel better about myself.”

    I find many deeper truths here.

    I frequently find myself in a room with some rather intimidating personalities. If I’m honest with myself I come to acknowledge that I am actually demeaning these people in my mind. (think about the old Brady Bunch trick of imagining the DMV man administering the driving test in his underwear.) In reality this is simply trying to compare ourselves to someone and trying to break them down to our level; or worse, beneath us.

    In reality this never really works. Ironically, what does work is looking to these people for inspiration. Lifting them up but looking for their good qualities. Commending them for their good attributes. And, in doing so, we are actually lifting them up to our level, thereby lifting ourselves up.

    A person of true power doesn’t treat people as lower, any more than an adult would pick on a little child. The best way to be inspired is to be inspiring. The best way to lift yourself up, is to lift up others. When we compare ourselves to others we are actually deconstructing them to make ourselves feel better by comparison.

    Thanks for your passion and commitment. You inspire me! And there’s no comparison for you!

  22. “When I am inspired by others, I want to clap for them.”
    Wow. That’s almost painful at how accurate it is, or more so it’s painful because the opposite is telling and saddens me of my own heart issues.