Comparison is the thief of joy — at least that’s what Theodore Roosevelt told us.
Almost every time I checked my social media this past summer, I could not help but feel a masked wave of dissatisfaction wash over me with every scroll of my finger. I definitely did not feel like I was growing enough, especially when I wasn’t having as many life-changing experiences as everyone else on my feed. I was Lady Liberty, blue and stuck in place — especially when I decided to go back home this summer, missing a chance to travel the world or score a marvelous internship like countless peers.
Though I definitely lived vicariously through my friends and their adventures — and I was truly excited for all them — I was also making a detrimental mistake by comparing my life to their own.
Due to a multitude of other circumstances in my life, I was feeling slightly depressed as well — a “summertime sadness,” if you will. And as a result, it was difficult for me to grasp the fact that you can never see the other side of the glory, the other side of somebody else’s glossy screen. The pixels and squares and Snapchat stories we see are never entirely representative of real life. The truth is, everyone has gray days, no matter how bright and colorful and aesthetically pleasing their Instagram account appears to be.
I gradually realized that it is best to use this reality as a reminder to be kind not just to others, but to myself. Comparing ourselves to others is a destructive and draining process that holds us to incredibly high, unreasonable expectations. When we compare our current mental or emotional state to such intangible limits, we limit ourselves so that there is no room to grow, no light left at the end of a seemingly never-ending tunnel.
I began this new school year with the expectation that I would start fresh and anew, that I would focus only on my own progress and journey and stay in my own lane without falling back into the tendency of measuring myself against the well-accomplished peers around me. Unfortunately, this positive approach only lasted for about two days.
Now that the first couple weeks are over, work has already begun to pile up — along with insecurities that stem from my habit of comparing. However, I have realized that it is not right to simply ignore the comparison going on in my head, for this is very much a human act.
And so, as I reflect on the number of units I am taking and the number of activities with which I am involved, I begin to fall into the trap of wondering whether I am as “good” as the people around me at one of the greatest schools in the entire world. I wonder if I am “good enough” to be here or if I am doing things the “right way.”
But it’s important to recognize that thoughts like these cross everyone’s mind at least once — they are beyond normal. It is simply up to us to see the good in ourselves, in our abilities and in the things that genuinely bring us joy.
As one of my good friends wisely put it, “If you’re doing it the Stanford way, then you’re probably doing it wrong in your way.”
Contact Clarissa Gutierrez at cguiter ‘at’ stanford.edu.