Slowly Sipping Coffee

Guest Post: “Harnessing the Power of Comparison” from Changing Our Default

I’m featuring a guest post from Mrs. COD who blogs at Changing Our Default. She is a former teacher turned stay at home mom, freelance writer, blogger, and more. She and her husband blog about their path to Financial Freedom and the changes it requires in attitude, mindset, and the habits you build up over your life. Today, Mrs. COD is talking about the double edge sword of comparison and the journey to FIRE. Take it away Mrs. COD!

Everyone knows we’re not supposed to compare ourselves with others. Comparison is such a rotten thing. It leaves you dissatisfied, jealous, joyless. Right? We shouldn’t compare our marriages, our jobs, our salaries, our possessions, our families, to anyone else’s, or we’ll resent what we’re missing.

“Love your life, not theirs.” -Rachel Cruze

Watching my kids interact provides daily evidence of the truth that comparison can indeed steal our joy. Junior COD can be perfectly content with a toy until he notices Mini COD equally content with a different toy, and suddenly, it’s ON. He wants what little bro has, and whatever he’d been playing with before pales in comparison. I mean, the other day at the pumpkin patch, they both got a tiny plastic bug toy as a prize, but they fought the rest of the day over who got the ant versus the beetle. Seriously?

I may deride these kids’ immaturity in my mind at times, but in all honesty, how different am I from them on any given day? I can be totally content with my lot in life until perusing social media and seeing something I’m missing. Even though I have a cushy life by most standards, it doesn’t always feel like enough.

In general, I totally agree with the idea of not following everyone else’s path and not being swayed by peer pressure to buy or do or think a certain way. Comparison can drag you down, for sure. It can be depressing. It can be discouraging.

But today I’d like to turn the discussion to the other side of the comparison coin: motivation. Comparison, if we use it well, can be an incredible tool in our arsenal, spurring us on to bigger and better things.

CAREER 

Talking to a colleague a year and a half ago and comparing our situations led me to rethink my work. She had been a stay-at-home mom for years, and just comparing myself to her helped me dare to imagine myself making the same decision. Now I’m home with my kids, able to go on preschool field trips, planning little adventures throughout the week with them. The boys do fight like cats and dogs, but they’re also closer than ever.

Comparing his workload and schedule as a school counselor to those of graduate professors in his doctorate program led Mr. COD to seek a change. He’s now an assistant professor in a graduate counselor education program. He’s channeled frustrations over high school counselor responsibilities into a positive shift. So far he’s found this new work environment much more satisfying, improving our journey towards our own Fully Funded Lifestyle Change (FFLC).

RETIREMENT PLANNING 

Reading FIRE blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and Slowly Sipping Coffee led us to comparison, naturally. We saw people utilizing math and a little dreaming to live more purposeful, satisfied lives, and we thought, hey, we want to be like them! These folks are retiring at insanely young ages, while we were expecting to work in unfulfilling jobs until 65 or later. Why shouldn’t we pursue a retirement on our own terms, without dependence on state-run pension systems? Why couldn’t we save and invest prodigiously towards the goal of either retiring by fifty or exploring fun new risks like opening our own cafe? We compared ourselves to others in the FIRE community and, while our situation looks different from many, we’re utilizing the power of comparison to create our own ideal work and retirement plans.

SKILLS

As a writer and blogger, I naturally compare others’ writing to my own. When I read someone’s writing that is unequivocally superior to my own, I’m tempted to give up because I could never hope to attain their level of skill, fluidity, or beauty in writing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally envy the verbose (yet unpretentious) style of Mrs. Frugalwoods or the witticisms of Mrs. BITA. But instead, I choose to be inspired by them and others ahead of me in that area. Comparison to others’ skills helps me learn and grow. I have to cultivate the growth mindset explicated by Carol Dweck, avoiding stagnation. Plus, there’s something to be said for honing my own unique voice, not merely aspiring to become a copycat of those I admire.

SALARY

Awareness of average salaries within your chosen field is a powerful tool for salary negotiations. If operating without that baseline for reference, you might ask for much less than you deserve for your work! I picture Michael Scott, manager extraordinaire of The Office. The day he learned that he, as a office manager, was earning barely more than his warehouse workers was a game-changer. If he hadn’t started comparing himself and his salary to others, he wouldn’t have snagged a 12% raise by the end of that day.

As I’m building my freelance writing experience, I turn to writers’ groups that provide motivation in this area as well. Right now, I’m content earning small fees for articles I write, but it’s vital that I know what I could earn down the road, with ever-increasing experience. These groups help me to set higher goals. I just can’t get discouraged by the huge discrepancy between what they’re being paid and what I’m being paid!

Embracing some healthy comparison and competition helps us to dream big. It raises the bar, preventing complacency and boredom. While a certain modicum of contentment is commendable, we shouldn’t allow contentment with our present circumstances to prohibit us from seeking growth. It’s a balancing act between striving and satisfaction.

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle, or your middle to someone else’s end. Don’t compare the start of your second quarter of life to someone else’s third quarter.” ― Tim Hiller , Strive: Life is Short, Pursue What Matters 

Whatever your FIRE or FFLC plans, you’ve likely benefited hugely from someone else’s FIRE journey. This blogging community is awesome because everyone supports one another, however our methods or timeline may differ.

Who are your comparison role models, in the pursuit of early retirement and elsewhere in your life?

-Mrs. COD is a former teacher, now freelance writer, who blogs about changing habits to improve life and gain financial freedom at www.changingourdefault.com .

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: “Harnessing the Power of Comparison” from Changing Our Default

  1. Mrs. BITA

    How nice to run into you here Mrs. COD. And how very pleasant to run into such a compliment midway through your post – thank you for making me grin broadly in the middle of my work day.

    Comparison is indeed a double edged sword and one that should be wielded judiciously. I’ve benefitted from the motivation about as much as I’ve been smitten by the green-eyed monster. I think I’ve about broken even in my dealings with Comparison.

  2. MrWow

    Thanks for introducing us to the COD’s. Great story, this is definitely something we struggle/benefit from. It sucks to know there are folks that so far ahead, but it also helps to have a community of peers to bounce ideas off and verify you’re on the right track. It’s just a dangerous game to compare, always remind yourself of your absolute status, not the relative one.

  3. FIways and Byways

    I think you are spot on. Comparing as motivation or to see what could be is a great approach. I certainly try to do that and learn from others experiences. Especially in this FI community. I then use that knowledge to improve my situation. I know of others that just become depressed about what others have that they do not. They think they are just unlucky and others get all the breaks. They don’t realize that they can make a difference in their lives with a different attitude. Also, every one has a unique path with so many variables that no two lives can be the same. What appears to be all rainbows and unicorns on the surface may be miserable underneath.

  4. Mrs. COD

    You make a good point; some seem to be stuck in the attitude that they are unlucky or that others get unfair breaks. While it is likely true that some are getting unfair benefits that we don’t, it usually doesn’t benefit us to dwell on that. There’s almost always SOMETHING we can change and make better!

  5. Jason

    For me this is the most difficult thing to do. I often use comparison as motivation, but at the same time it can and has been a thief of joy for me. I guess this is part of my FI journey, aside from the money part.

  6. Mrs.Wow

    Well said! Whatever your FI journey is, make it your own. There are so many fascinating stories out there and every one is different on how they achieved or are achieving FIRE. Read about what others are doing to give you a push to learn or try something new, but not dwell on the fact that they have may it better than you. I know it is easier said than done and I definitely have to keep reminding myself that what I am doing works for me, but might not work for everyone else. And the same goes for things that work for other people, may not be the best option for me.

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