It is easier now than ever to check in on people you don’t see very often. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; they all allow you to keep tabs on people. You can see a classmate from a decade ago move into the C-Suite, a childhood friend make a viral Youtube video, or an old flame put a ring on it. And this isn’t just limited to people we know. You can literally access anyone in today’s world. But this kind of access can have its drawbacks.
What makes it easier to stay in touch with and communicate with people also makes it very easy to start comparing yourself and your place in life to others, to start shopping around. This proliferates into many aspects of society – dating, job hunting, etc – but in the end you are constantly comparing yourself to others. In the context of this website, this is comparing yourself and your worldly accomplishments, but of course this also effects a broader spectrum.
This instant desire to compare, to compete with people you haven’t seen in years (or maybe not ever) can be extremely dangerous. You start comparing your accomplishments to theirs. You figure, ‘If they can do it, why aren’t I? I must be a failure because I haven’t done what they are able to do.’ Obviously, this leads to a very skewed, dark perception of reality. Yet we all still do it, myself included.
My previous background before B-School was in green building (think LEED certifications). In this industry, a standard practice is to benchmark the energy efficiency of your building against that of another. Now obviously it only makes sense to compare to a building that has similar characteristics as yours. An office complex is going to use energy very differently from a sports complex or hospital. Likewise, there are many other factors that can affect a buildings energy performance, including size, orientation (whether the building faces north or south can have big implications), and the local climate.
The point here is that you have to be extremely selective when finding an appropriate benchmark for your building, making sure you select the right building to compare yours to. Otherwise the entire project can be thrown off, as you now think your high-rise apartment in Chicago should be using as little energy as a library in Dallas. Many times, this leads to no benchmarking being done at all, and the engineering team will just focus on making the building as efficient as possible, regardless of how it compares. They do the best with what they are given in that particular building.
This is how we have to approach the rest of our professional and even personal lives. There are a lot of external factors around an individual that can determine their success. What family they were born to, where, early education; these are factors that you cannot control. All you can control is what you are going to do next. You have to focus on what you can do to help mimic their success, and what you can learn from what they have done that can be implemented into your own life. It is a glass-half-full mentality – trusting yourself that you can achieve the goals you want to, not getting dejected and doubting yourself because you didn’t do it as fast as someone else.
There is a proper methodology to comparing yourself and benchmarking, one that builds upon this glass-half-full approach. For buildings, it is giving your engineers something to shoot for in their design, a goal of sorts. Analyzing the right building can give the team new ideas about things that worked for the other design team that can then be implemented in their current design.
This same concept applies for personal benchmarking. It can give you insights into proper steps to take, or goals to shoot for. This is how George Washington started surveying as a youth. He didn’t lament his background and lack of proper education from his poor upbringing. Instead, he studied the other successful men around him, saw that their wealth came from their land, and figured out that surveying would be an easy way to get into the real estate game. Glass half-full.
The key here is keeping that positive, healthier mindset. Which is far easier to maintain when you’re not making comparisons very frequently. Sitting on Facebook, Instagram, or even LinkedIn can warp your sense of reality. People only post the good things, there is a huge ‘survivor bias’ to what you see when scrolling. Its best to just check-in every once in a while, not every 2 hours, and keep things in perspective. Personally, I’ve taken all social media notifications off my phone (although the apps live on), and deleted them from my Chrome home screen. Out of sight, out of mind.
But however you do it, ultimately we just have to make sure we are comparing ourselves the right way. Yes, find the proper benchmarks. Find a mentor (real or virtual), try to emulate their steps. But at the end, you are not that person. You have a different background, and a different future. Not everyone operates on the same timeline, and there is no one correct life timeline. All you can do is your best, with your head on a swivel, ready for opportunities to learn and progress.