“Stop comparing yourself to others!”
However, I’m a firm believer in the fact that things aren’t always as black and white as they seem. While constant comparison can sometimes send me spiraling into a funk, it often also serves as a great motivator for me.
So, where’s the line here? Are there certain instances when comparison isn’t actually a roadblock—but a stepping stone?
Yes, I think so. Here are some times when it can actually be a positive thing for your career.
1. When There’s Something to Be Learned
Somebody you know just achieved great success—let’s say that your colleague just scored a big promotion you were both in the running for.
That stings, and it’s only natural that you’re going to match yourself up against that person to see where you fell short.
But, as brutal as this sort of process can seem, there’s actually quite a bit to be learned from it. Was there a qualification that other person had that you were missing? Had she worked there longer? Did he do something extra to position himself for success?
Comparing yourself in order to identify your differences, shortcomings, or areas of improvement—and then using that information to better yourself—can help you make progress in your own career.
2. When You Can Use it as Inspiration
Comparison is a double-edged sword of sorts. On the one hand, it can be incredibly disheartening. But, on the other? It’s inspiring—it shows you what’s possible.
Sure, maybe the fact that your college roommate just launched his own tech company is enough to drive you into a deep hole of negativity and insecurity about your dull desk job. Unless, of course, you look at his achievement through a different lens.
You both attended the same school. You earned the same degree. You even majored in the very same thing.
If he was able to accomplish this much, what possibilities are out there for you? Instead of being covetous of his success, use it as motivation for you to keep pushing and make the most of your own potential.
3. When You Gain Increased Perspective
Comparison doesn’t just have to equate to seeing how you match up against other successful people. It might sound brutal, but comparing your own situation to another person’s far more dire circumstances is a surefire way to snap out of feeling sorry for yourself.
As a matter of fact, you’ve likely already done this very same thing plenty of times before.
For example, you’ve probably complained endlessly about the traffic you’ve been stopped in, until you saw the horrendous accident that caused the mess. At that point, you were grateful to be safely at a standstill—and not in one of those wrecked cars.
Sometimes, you need to step outside of your own bubble and put yourself in another person’s shoes in order to get a real grasp on your circumstances. And, nothing accomplishes that quite like comparison.
4. When You Can Remain Self-Focused
You could read all of the advice in the world about how to stop comparing yourself to others. But, you know what? It probably wouldn’t work.
Comparison is human nature. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to be obsessive about it.
Let’s rely on my favorite analogy of marathon runners. Do they admire the accomplished marathoners who complete the race faster than they could possibly ever dream of doing themselves? Absolutely. Does witnessing that inspire a little bit of jealousy and drive them to try to improve their own race time? I would imagine so.
However, even so, very few marathon runners cross the start line with the intent of finishing first. Instead, they’re far more concerned with finishing at all—and, in many cases, beating their own personal best.
Comparison can and should work this very same way. By all means, continue to see how you measure up to other people—you’re going to do so anyway, and it can ultimately serve as excellent motivation.
But, rather than using it to beat yourself up, let it build you up. As these situations prove, you absolutely can use it to your advantage.
This article was originally published on Inc. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of people working together courtesy of Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images.