2 reasons you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people.

At what age do you stop having nightmares about college? Because I’m apparently not that age yet.

The details are always the same.

I’ve skipped class all semester but suddenly showed up for the day of the final. And it’s one of those classes where 100% of your grade is based on the final. I start to sweat and run to the administration building to drop the class, but I’ve missed the cutoff. It’s too late!

Then I wake up.

Have you ever had that particular nightmare?

The other one I sometimes have is about writing research papers. When I was in college, nobody had personal computers, instead we had personal hells called “Computer labs.”

These stress chambers were rooms, often located in windowless spaces in the library basement, that contained the most temperamental computers ever built.

You never knew if they were going to work or if the printer would jam or worst of all, if you’d actually get one when you showed up in the lab. The worst feeling was walking through that door and realizing all the computers were already taken by other people who were better prepared than you.

In those moments, it was easy to compare myself to other people. I remember constantly asking friends, “How is your paper coming? Are you done? How much do you have written?” I asked them because then I could compare my progress against theirs.

In the midst of doing that one day, my friend Jimmy told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Don’t compare yourself to other people. If you’re ahead of them, you’ll get too prideful and be tempted to coast. If you’re behind them, you’ll get depressed and want to give up. Just write your own paper.”

I love that and I think he’s right.

Comparing yourself to others leads to arrogance or shame, but never happiness.


Arrogance tells you that you’re ahead. That you’re better than them. That you know something they don’t know or have accomplished something better than someone else. Pride then comes in like a wrecking ball. (Are we still doing Miley references in 2015?)

Shame tells you that you’re behind. That you’ll never catch up. That someone else has an unfair advantage and the odds are wrongfully stacked against you. That it would be a lot easier to give up.

Neither thing leads you one step closer to your goal.

Write your own book.

Start your own business.

Lose your own weight.

Walk the path that you’ve been given to walk this year.

Comparing your journey to somebody else’s is the best way to miss the one you’re actually on.

p.s. Want funny, encouraging ideas like this emailed to you? Sign up for my newsletter.



  • Carrie
    Posted at 08:51h, 06 January Reply

    It’s cute how you had computer labs. I had those my last year in college. Every other year I had a typewriter. Yeah. That was fun.

  • Becca
    Posted at 08:59h, 06 January Reply

    It’s cute how you had computer labs.
    We had manual typewriters -or paid someone to type our papers for us. (Some of us lived off of typing other people’s papers.) Talk about having to be prepared ahead of time!

  • Becca
    Posted at 09:00h, 06 January Reply

    Oops, compared myself to you!

  • Steven Tessler
    Posted at 09:20h, 06 January Reply

    Woah………… I certainly get caught up in this. Instead of comparing I need to encourage and even wish them luck on their accomplishments!

    I once taught cake decorating classes and I would use the quote I heard you say many times. “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else middle.”

    When I told them this I explained I’d been decorating for 10 years and they were just starting. They would then realize it takes time to master something.

    Thank you for what you’re doing with the #DoOverBook challenge!!

    • David Mike
      Posted at 09:42h, 06 January Reply

      You are doing awesome Steve! Keep it up and I will catch up to you soon!

  • Nick Pavlidis
    Posted at 09:26h, 06 January Reply

    For me there’s a fine line between comparing myself to folks and studying from people who are successful in areas of life that I want to get better at. It’s a HUGE mental shift, but a fine line between, “they’re better than me and I suck” and “they are successful; what can I learn from them to become more successful.” The former is an unhealthy comparison. The latter has helped me go from terrible husband to slightly less terrible husband, and less and less terrible every day.

    Great post!

    • David Mike
      Posted at 09:43h, 06 January Reply

      Nick you would be the perfect case study! You are all over the place in a very organized and intentional manner. I’m in awe.

      • Nick Pavlidis
        Posted at 06:52h, 07 January Reply

        Thanks David! I’m really blessed to have support all over the place to help keep things together!

  • David Mike
    Posted at 09:46h, 06 January Reply

    I did this when I first “Started” (see what I did there?) But, I realized that only I can write my own story and it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I am giving it my all. Another great reminder Jon and I feel like each one of your posts could be another book!

  • Lydia Mumford
    Posted at 09:47h, 06 January Reply

    Same dream all the time over here. computer labs = Hell. yes! Sounds like Jimmy embodies the spirit of “Desiderata”, one of my favorite poems, which my parents had framed in my childhood home. A “good read” ; )


  • Julie
    Posted at 09:54h, 06 January Reply

    “Just write your own paper.” Perfect. Thanks, Jimmy.

  • Ken
    Posted at 10:57h, 06 January Reply

    I wonder if I compare myself to others more or less than others…

  • James Sommers
    Posted at 11:10h, 06 January Reply


    Well said. This really spoke to me! And the trouble is there’s ALWAYS someone that’s doing better, or worse than us.

    Way too often I compare myself to others and frankly, as you said, it makes me feel bad. I often compare myself to people who are doing better. And you’re right Jon — it gets me NO WHERE! And Facebook is very helpful in the “look at how much better everyone’s doing but me” department!

    That said I never have had a great idea, inspiring thought while comparing myself to someone else! Ever! There’s ALWAYS someone doing better, who’s richer, selling more books, succeeding at a higher lever! Yet to focus on that is to doom my (our) dreams.

    Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to read DO OVER!

  • Michael Henry
    Posted at 11:50h, 06 January Reply

    Here is the contradiction. Examples of people who are doing what you want to do are shown to you. It shows what is possible. When you struggle to get there and say “Well so and so did it, why can’t I?” you are told “Don’t compare yourself to others!”


    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 12:05h, 06 January Reply

      Good point. I would call it a tension, not a contradiction. The tension is that seeing other people accomplish something can inspire you, but if you’re not careful and you misinterpret their accomplishments (believing they were easy for them or that perhaps you should already have achieved them too) you can head into the shame of comparison. That’s a tension.

      • Jason
        Posted at 13:12h, 06 January Reply

        For my immediate peers in a similar life stage, I agree with this. But I don’t think this means we should never compare ourselves. Time plays a big factor. How about people who are older and have had more time to achieve life goals? There are many older men who inspire me and help give me vision of how I want to lead my family and be faithful at my job. Conversely, sometimes I try to encourage men younger than me who are seeking guidance on goals that I’ve achieved. So I think comparing can be helpful in certain cases.

        • Dan
          Posted at 10:14h, 07 January Reply

          I agree Jason. I use comparison as a tool to motivate myself and set goals. If someone is perceiving being behind someone as “They have an unfair advantage and the odds are wrongfully stacked against you.” They are joining in with our entitlement society. Their first conclusions should be that they are better or in the place they are because they have worked harder and longer to get there and kick it in to move toward that goal.

  • James
    Posted at 15:33h, 06 January Reply

    Good stuff! I had multiple derivations of that dream until I was about 35. One night, I had a dream where I showed up half-way through the term to a class. When I opened the door the professor said ‘Welcome, have a seat!’ like it was no big deal. Never had the dream again. I believe it was all a reflection of my perceived unpreparedness, and when I finally achieved confidence that I was generally competent, the dream went away.

  • Traci
    Posted at 17:46h, 06 January Reply

    Oh, my word! I’m nearing the half century mark, and I STILL have that nightmare!

    Thanks for your commentary on comparison. This is the second reference to comparison I have seen in half an hour–perhaps I should pay attention!

  • Daniel Decker
    Posted at 21:20h, 06 January Reply

    So good and so true.

  • Chris Lawson
    Posted at 06:24h, 07 January Reply

    Thank you for this…

  • Chris
    Posted at 06:28h, 07 January Reply

    At what age do you stop having nightmares about college? 44 years old and I still have that exact same dream periodically. So the answer is probably, never.

  • Gina Horkey
    Posted at 06:59h, 07 January Reply

    One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison kills contentment. You should never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

    I’ve had similar dreams and wake up thinking I’ve still in that stage of life, crazy isn’t it?

  • Krithika Rangarajan
    Posted at 07:23h, 07 January Reply

    Hey Jon

    I had to laugh after reading your email because I have experienced both the extremes. From 2nd grade to the 9th grade, I was an arrogant snob. My misplaced over-confidence began to chip away slowly after that until I fell into a quagmire of fear and despondency!

    I was comparing myself to someone else just yesterday, but a lovely Facebook group saved me from the evils of self-pity! lol

    THANK YOU (and your friend is very wise ;))

    Best wishes #HUGS

  • Jonn McDaniel
    Posted at 10:09h, 07 January Reply

    You’ve said this (or something like it)1000 times 100 different ways. And I still need you to keep saying it!!!

    Yet again, thanks, I needed this!!

    Thou rocketh mightily!

  • Sarah May
    Posted at 11:21h, 07 January Reply

    I just had one the other night. Finals were coming I had no notes so I had no idea what to study or what day the Final was on.

  • Jesse Barnett
    Posted at 13:36h, 07 January Reply


    I think this is so true, yet sometimes is so hard to do. It also kind of depends on your confidence level. If you are full of self confidence, you often don’t look at the work of others and compare. However, if you are lacking confidence, it is easy to look over your shoulder to see what everyone else is doing, or what they are thinking about your work.

    I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I try to be bold and do my own thing, but I also like to see what is happening around me.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Derek
    Posted at 14:49h, 07 January Reply

    It is amazing how timely this post was! Your reads are always refreshing … this one especially so. Thanks, God Bless!

  • Tina Drake
    Posted at 20:04h, 07 January Reply


    Great piece!!! Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one who has the “college finals” nightmare. Now if I can figure out why it still happens – I graduated from college 27 years ago! Keep up the great work.

  • Art
    Posted at 20:24h, 08 January Reply

    To stop having nightmares about college finals like I did for too long…start having nightmares about your job, like I do now.

  • Rob
    Posted at 14:58h, 26 March Reply

    Thanks for posting this. I have been comparing myself with others and it does not lead to anything except having people live, rent free, in your head.

    Keep up the great words…and great wisdom

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