Editor's Column

Editor's Column

Censuring Comparisons
By: Laura Pratt

I recently read an article in The New Yorker about "How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy." At first glance, the statement read as a fallacy to me. Seriously, who joins social media to feel unhappy? Although it is largely dependent on what people actually do when they're on Facebook, there are numerous studies suggesting interaction on social media can result in very negative emotional states. I was particularly impacted by one of the studies suggesting envy increases with Facebook use, which got me thinking.

There is a well-known social-psychology phenomenon called social comparison at play here. Basically, this theory suggests individuals evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others. While there are several criticisms to the theory as a whole (I'm not a psychologist, so I can't really discuss those at length with any type of competency), the honest truth is a social network enables us to freely read about the achievements and adventures of others, which can result in comparison, negativity, and ultimately, if we’re not careful, resentment and bitterness.

I think young lawyers are particularly susceptible to these negative comparisons. We may openly understand the foolishness of our ways, but paychecks, bar involvement, reputation and connections, awards and recognitions, practice areas, size of firm, etc., become frequent items for comparison. As an added complication, it's so easy to compare our personal lives as well. Marital status, house-size, family structure, extracurricular activities, children...the list goes on and on. It's a dangerous path to travel, and I'd like to challenge you to avoid walking on it as much as possible.

Here's some tips to ponder along the way:

Recognize the Comparison Problem. It seems like this is always the first step because it generally is. We often compare the wrong things at the wrong time. There's not really an end to it once we get started either. Comparison puts your focus on another person instead of yourself, and it can continually rob you of your joy during some of life's best times. It seems foolish to continue in a lifestyle that's so negative once you put a name to it, so recognize there are problems in the comparison game.

Celebrate your Uniqueness. In case you haven't heard it in a while, YOU ARE AN AMAZING PERSON. Period. I'm not really a fruit person, so I'm the wrong one to ask about comparing apples to oranges. But the analogy is there. You are unique, and no one else is living the life you are.

It's not a Competition. Sure, competition can be appropriate in some circumstances, but in the game called "life," it really doesn't have much of a place. We are all trying to "figure it out." As young lawyers, we should be encouraging each other in our decisions and helping each other through difficult times. It's one of the reason TYLA is launching a Work/Life Balance Blog. We want to provide an open forum (especially for women) to encourage and share our experiences and challenges. No one is keeping score, and if you start the comparison game, no one really wins.

Focus on Personal Growth Rather Than Perfection. I hate that perfection is so often the model we are presented. Society glamorizes it everywhere; these amazing stories of personal triumph and fulfillment. Not that this is bad, but seriously, we are only getting a snapshot in time of that person and his or her situation. We rarely get to see the broken dreams, complete defeat, or epic failures. Nobody is perfect...not you and not me. So instead of focusing on perfection, turn your focus inward and look to growing things that do not lose their value. Kindness, patience, generosity, love, humility, justice...just to name a few. Focus on growing the things within your control to take the focus off the things out of your control.

Live Life with Purpose. Helen Keller once said, "True happiness...is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose." There are too many people that live life without purpose. Find your purpose and be intentional about achieving it. When you have clear vision for the outcome of your life, comparing your accomplishments to those of others loses its lure.  As an additional bonus, this frees you up to celebrate when someone else experiences success while working towards their purpose as well. 

LAURA PRATT is an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Lubbock and District 3 Director for TYLA. The opinions expressed in this article are not the official opinions of the City of Lubbock.