Comparison Trap: Releasing the Pressure of Where You ‘Should’ Be

The Illusion of Life’s Race

Do you ever find yourself feeling frustrated, angry, or even a bit sad when you think about where you are in life right now compared to where you thought you would or should be? In this fast-paced world where we often find ourselves comparing our lives to others, it’s crucial to pause and reflect on the journey we’re on. The comparison trap of where we think we should be is a common pitfall, causing frustration and discontent as we measure ourselves against our expectations or perceived standards. Today, we’ll challenge your current thinking to release this pressure and explore how you can think differently to live a richer, more fulfilling life.

Embrace Your Current Chapter

First, life is not a race. Yet we often measure ourselves, as if it is.

From a young age, we set ourselves on a path, thinking that our lives will unfold in an orderly pattern. But life’s not a linear adventure, it’s a series of unpredictable twists and turns. Reflecting on my son’s experience after high school, I realized how common it is for young adults to feel the pressure to have it all figured out. But life has its own plans, and unexpected events, like the recent pandemic, that can change even the “best-laid plans”. Suddenly your entire course is altered.

My youngest son’s journey was a testament to this. While his friends pursued their predetermined paths, he explored various interests, took a few college classes, and navigated the uncertainties of the pandemic. Some friends stayed on course and graduated from college. Others deviated, left college, or changed majors, or careers entirely, illustrating that everyone’s journey is unique.

For most of us, our lives follow the same predictable path from an early age through the traditional educational system. Leaving high school (or the equivalent) marks the beginning of our brave new adventure into life. From this point forward, we’re all at different points in our lives, and that’s perfectly okay.

Breaking Free from the Comparison Trap

The realization struck me during two conversations with very different women on the same day.  Despite their differences, both expressed discontent with not being where they thought they ‘would’ or ‘should’ be”. This common thread transcends genders and generations highlighting the impact of our expectations on our perceptions. The danger lies in comparing ourselves to others and an imaginary timeline in our minds.

One young woman shared her concerns about not reaching the life milestones her friends were achieving at her age, finding a life partner, getting married, and having babies.  Another woman with considerable life experience expressed frustration over unexpected life changes. Despite their differing circumstances, both intelligent and accomplished women were grappling with the same challenge – the comparison trap of the discrepancy between reality and their perceived timeline.

The young woman yearning to achieve life’s milestones illustrates this “trap”. Her friends (and I) encouraged her to enjoy this carefree moment and recognize that life is happening now; there’s no need to wait for some future moment to declare that life has “started”. Similarly, the more mature woman, despite her many noteworthy accomplishments, found herself yearning for a future that matched her expectations.

No matter your age or stage, gender or generation, the message remains consistent: embrace the present, for this moment is fleeting. This common thread crosses genders and generations emphasizing the impact of personal and societal expectations on our perceptions. The danger lies in comparing ourselves to others and an imaginary timeline in our minds.

Release the Pressure, Embrace the Present

If you find yourself dreaming of some ideal future that is alluding you, I encourage you to pause and reflect on your thoughts. “Life” happens to everyone; it’s part of being human. When you think life isn’t going “your way”, question your expectations. Examine your circumstances factually, objectively, and accurately. So, maybe life isn’t turning out the way you “planned”. It rarely does (and sometimes life surprises you and sometimes it’s even better than you imagined). Embrace the present and recognize that life unfolds differently for everyone. Some would even say it unfolds exactly as it’s meant to. Waiting for a future moment to feel fulfilled leads to missing out on the richness of the current experience. That experience we call “our life”.

Artistic Reflections: Life as a Canvas

In a conversation with my son, who’s now found his career path in art school, we drew parallels between life and art. He shared with me how he appreciated watching his classmates develop their unique artistic styles over time. We agreed this seems natural and normal. Similarly, our lives evolve uniquely, based on our experiences, backgrounds, and choices. Yet, we have difficulty accepting that this is normal too. Recognizing this uniqueness allows us to see ourselves more clearly, and appreciate where we are in life, and the progress we’ve made.

Rather than feeling “bad” (frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad, or even depressed), take a breath. Pause and challenge those negative thoughts. Ask yourself where those ideas came from, and if they are accurate and true. Adopt a mindset of self-compassion. Remind yourself that you’re okay, exactly where you’re supposed to be, and this moment won’t last forever.

“This Too Shall Pass”: Navigating Life’s Bumps

As my parents often say, “This too shall pass.” Life’s journey is filled with bumps (and sometimes bruises), but they contribute to our growth and development. Accepting and embracing the unpredictability of life allows us to find contentment in the present.

As we navigate the complexities of life, understanding the pitfall of the “comparison trap” is essential. In a world constantly urging us to compare, remember that your journey is unique, and you are unlike anyone else. Release the pressure of where you think you ‘should’ be and revel in the beauty of where you are. Life is an ever-evolving canvas; paint it with the colors of self-love, acceptance, and the joy of embracing your unique story.

I’m here to support you on this journey. If you’d like some help releasing the pressure, so you can start Living a Richer Life, schedule a call with me today!

Kristin Clark is an Axiogenics LLC Partner and Certified Axiogenics Coach. She’s the owner of Insight Coaching and co-author of Living a Richer Life; It’s All in Your Head which she proudly wrote with her dad. She’s coached hundreds of people from a range of backgrounds and beliefs, industries, and professions. Kristin trains and coaches owners, executives, business leaders, and individuals seeking to become Valuegenic Self-Leaders.  Kristin can help you master your A-Game, enhance your performance, embrace your relationships, engage your team, elevate your leadership, and enrich your life.

Artwork by Grant Clark follow on Instagram | | YouTube