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"If You Compare Yourself To Others"

The best advice  I never follow comes from Max Ehrmann's Desiderata:

If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter*; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself

This is so true, but I allowed myself a comparison when I recently found out that Allan Iverson is broke. And that Whitney Houston squandered most of the money she made.

It wasn't exactly schadenfreude. I took no pleasure in the pain either of these people introduced into their lives. I know that I have not been as frugal in life as I should have been, and it made me feel better about myself to know that some people had been even more wasteful than I have been. I'm pretty sure that I've wasted a much smaller percentage of my income than he had. And if it had been that percentage of Allan Iverson's salary, I'd be doing pretty good right now. I'd probably still be beating up on myself for not having been more frugal, but I'd be doing it in greater comfort and style.

But  I'm not Alan Iverson. Since I don't have his income, it's not enough to be more frugal than he was. I have to be more frugal than I am. And I will never be more frugal if I look at all the really profligate folks and take comfort that I'm not doing as badly as them. Comparing yourself to "lesser persons" doesn't just make you vain. It causes you to limit yourself.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of comparing myself to greater persons. I often wonder if I could have been another Steve Jobs or Dennis Ritchie if I'd had more discipline and focus. Comparing yourself to greater persons isn't quite as bad as comparing yourself to lesser. It can motivate  you to be better than you are.

But it can be taken too far, causing unrealistic self-expectations. For instance, sometimes I catch myself comparing myself to this guy:

but then, after a moment of feeling inadequate, I remember he is a fictional character.