Developer Tea

The Detriments of Social Comparisons

Episode Summary

In today's episode, we discuss the potential detriments of over-comparing yourself to others.

Episode Notes

In today's episode, we discuss the potential detriments of over-comparing yourself to others.

###Today's Episode is Brought To You By: WooCommerce
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Episode Transcription

I want you to take a moment and picture someone you know in your mind. It can really be anyone that you know. And this person could be someone you work with, it could be a neighbor of yours, it could be a friend, it could be even your own spouse or your children or really anyone that is in your life. The amazing thing about these relationships that we have is that without our active involvement we compare ourselves to these people. The person that you brought up in your mind, you almost certainly have compared yourself to at some time or another in some way or another. And that's what we're talking about on today's episode, the perils and also the opportunities that we can find in comparison. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal in this show is to help developers like you, driven developers like you, find your career purpose so you can do better work and have a positive influence on the people around you. It's a very simple goal, pretty straightforward and really we're trying to do this through a series of thought exercises through a series of exploration and finding what other people have figured out, research, reading books and reading studies, primary academic research, but also talking to people who are in the industry. We do all these things in more on this show. I hope you will subscribe if you are interested in this concept, but I'm really excited to talk about comparisons today. This is inspired by quite a few posts that I've seen on Reddit and in other places on Twitter, on message boards for developers pretty much everywhere. You see the developer who's in college or who is trying to learn how to be a developer and they're depressed or they're frustrated or they're anxious or they're concerned that they're not going to be, they're not going to be up to snuff. It's not even necessarily imposter syndrome, but rather that the other people around them seem to be learning faster, seem to be more capable than them. In this way, they're making a immediate direct comparison of their own abilities to the people around them. This happens very often, especially in colleges because the year that you're in in college, for example, if somebody younger than you gets an internship or if your classmates all seem to understand how to do something that you're not quite picking up on or maybe everyone around you has side projects and you can't seem to figure out how to get one started. There's so many ways that you can evaluate this, but ultimately this happens to all of us at some point. And we're going to peel back some layers here. It's not just Developer That this happens to. We compare ourselves all the time and I wanted to talk about this because it's such an important subject. Before we jump in, I do want to mention our very first non-developer related product sponsor, Mad Monk T. Now, you've probably expected us to talk about T at some point in the life cycle of the show and it's taken almost 500 episodes to get to the point where we found a T that we're willing to put our name next to and Mad Monk T is that company. Mad Monk has T's from around the world and saw kinds of styles of T. So black, white, green, long, pretty much anything you can imagine. On top of that, they do special T's like aged T's. So they have all kinds of options. If you've never had loose leaf T, then you've had an entirely different drink with the T bags. That's what I was used to before I tried loose leaf T for the first time and it's a totally different experience. If you've never enjoyed hot T before, then I encourage you to go and check out Mad Monk. Head over to and use the code Developer Tea with a space in the middle, Developer Tea. And you'll get 15% off your order. Thank you to Mad Monk for being our very first non-developer related product sponsor. So we're talking about comparisons on today's episode and I'm really excited to talk about this specifically social comparisons. This is us comparing ourselves to other people. And there are times where we do this consciously. There's times when we engage this concept consciously. We try to figure out how much another person is making salary-wise. We may try to figure out if another person is a better programmer than us. We also compare our relational capabilities with other people. So is that other person's relationship with their spouse? Are they more compatible than my relationship with my spouse? But the reality is this has been happening for pretty much all of human history. You see, the truth is underlying all of our cultured and sophisticated minds, we have this old brain, a much more primitive version of the human brain still exists deep down and still it drives a lot of our behavior. So one of those behaviors is comparing ourselves to others so that we can size up where we fit. And in other words, we can identify if that other person is going to be a threat to my livelihood. So our brains are doing their jobs when we do this comparison game. The problems that arise as a result of comparison can leave us in a really bad position. Even if somebody isn't trying to be antagonistic towards you, for example, your boss, let's imagine that you're comparing yourself to your boss. And typically, on the average case, your boss is probably going to make more money than you. Right? Research shows that when you compare yourself with an upward direction, in other words, when you compare yourself to someone that you will ultimately evaluate to be above you in some way, in this particular scenario, we're talking about salary, but it could be anything when you compare yourself to someone that you perceive as above you in some way, you actually elicit negative emotions. These emotions are the same ones that are associated with envy. A more accurate way of describing this is that the part of your brain that is lit up when you are invious is also lit up when you're doing a comparison with someone who is you perceive to be above you. Similarly, when you perceive someone to be below you, the opposite happens. You feel a sense of reward. You feel as if you have accomplished something. And all of this happens only because of comparison. Now, again, if you go back to why this happens, your brain is encouraging you to become better than other people. Unfortunately, our primitive brains don't really care too much about a social good. They don't care about society or furthering the efforts of a group of people. Our brains have one job and our primitive brains more specifically have one job and that is to keep us alive and to continue building our relational capacity so that we can survive into the future. So, it's very important to recognize that once again, this is our brains doing their job, but in a advanced society that we live in, this can have detrimental effects. More specifically, if you start creating a connection of envy with your boss, then when you walk into work, that connection will still have some effect on you. It's going to have some effect on your perception of your boss. And so, how do we correct this? Or how can we reverse engineer the way that we compare ourselves with other people so that we can approach it from a more healthy perspective and actually use this to our advantage rather than allowing ourselves to build up a lack of humility when we're looking down on someone and simultaneously building up a store of envy when we're looking up at someone. This comparison game is difficult and we're going to talk about how we can use it to our advantage right after we talk about today's sponsor, WooCommerce. If you have shopped online more than three different stores, then you've almost definitely used WooCommerce before and you may not have even known it. WooCommerce is built on top of WordPress and it's totally customizable. You take all of your data with you no matter what happens and you can pay with almost anything through an eCommerce site. For example, Bitcoin powered by Stripe or you can even use Apple Pay. This is a super flexible opportunity for pretty much any eCommerce situation you can imagine. On top of this, WooCommerce has a community, a strong community like WordPress and as a result of being open source, there's an active worldwide community of developers who share their knowledge at things like meetups and they even have a WooCommerce Slack channel and forums. There's a lot of information out there. You're not going to be stuck. You won't buy this and then have to only resort to looking at out of date documentation or something like that. There are other people who are using WooCommerce actively and are excited about it and are excited enough about it to create a vibrant community of WooCommerce users and developers. If you have a need for an eCommerce solution, you should check out WooCommerce. Go over to slash Developer Tea and if you use the code Developer Tea, you'll get 20% off. This is good until the end of March 2018. Go and check it out. slash Developer Tea. Thank you again to WooCommerce for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. This comparison game that our brains automatically do is social comparison and trying to size other people up whether we're doing it on purpose, kind of in our thinking mindset or if we're doing it accidentally, if we're doing it kind of passively or even without realizing what we're doing, this comparison happens all the time. On top of that, it's actually fueled even more now because we have more access to seeing what other people are doing. We're more interfaced with the lives of others as a result of social media that maybe ever before in human history. So what this means is that as we're browsing through our Instagram feed or as we're going through Facebook or even when we're browsing hacker news or even when we're browsing the anonymous postings of people on Reddit, we have the opportunity with each of those personal posts to compare ourselves to that person, compare our food to that person's food. We compare our vacation to that person's vacation or our exercise to that person's exercise. So this is a pervasive thing that we do and it's very important for us to understand it because there are detrimental effects that this can have on our relationships with the people that we're comparing ourselves to and it can also have a detrimental effect on our relationship with ourself. As we continue to compare, it is very possible that we will go down the path of thinking that we're not somewhere in the middle. So in other words, we can either become incredibly inflated and lose all humility, which is extremely detrimental to our career path or we can believe that we are kind of at the very bottom of the totem pole and that everyone else around us has something better than we do, that they are better at something that we're at. And if we allow this to spin out of control, especially if we allow ourselves to lose our entire self-worth or if we lose all of our humility, then we ultimately become isolated. So how can we avoid this? How can we avoid this detrimental effect of over comparison? Well, first of all, it's important to recognize that you're not going to stop comparing yourself to other people. This is still an important part of our understanding of the world and it's not going to just turn off overnight. There are a few things that we can do to make it kind of work for us, though. First of all, we need to start seeing other people not in light of how different are they, but rather how are we similar? How can I find common ground with this person? The excellent comedian Pete Holmes describes a way of doing this. He says, whenever you find someone that you feel intimidated by or scared by, and I'm paraphrasing Pete Holmes here, he says, remember that everyone sleeps. So this idea is that even the most terrifying person you can imagine or the most powerful or smart person you can imagine, they also, just like you, they sleep. And they flip their pillow over to the cold side, right? And all of the things that we do that make us human, we share those things. And therefore, we also share this idea of growth. We share a common ground with everyone around us. So that's the first step to help this work better for you. So that as you see someone that your comparing brain tells you you are better than them, you can also recognize that perhaps you could have been in their position, had things gone differently, had your luck been different, right? The other side of this is that when you see people who are in positions that are superior to you for whatever reason or in whatever metric, you can see yourself in light of what you can learn from them, rather than what you need to envy of them. The second thing we need to do is recognize that our brains are lazy. Our brains are incredibly lazy. They want to make things simple for us. They want to give us some way of understanding hierarchy, social hierarchy that is absolute. And the reality, we have to remind ourselves of this, the reality is that things are more complex than that. There are more things to consider than a single metric of status. For example, we may reduce our status to our yearly income, our salary. But this is not a complete understanding of who we are as people. And this is really kind of going back to that common ground. We are all human and every human has their faults, every human has their struggles, they have weaknesses and strengths. No matter what you do to try to compare, you won't be able to see that full picture. You won't be able to definitively put a ranking between you and another person. The only way you can really create that ranking system is on a single or on a group of metrics that only pale in comparison to the reality of the complexity that every person faces, every day they are alive. So recognizing when you are engaging in this kind of comparison, especially when you start feeling self-doubt and when you start feeling a lack of self-worth or when you start feeling like no one around you understands you and that you're superior to everyone around you. When you have these feelings, remind yourself that things are more complex, that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, that comparison is only a rough metric to help you survive. You can thank your brain for trying to help you survive, but then move down the road and remember that the best thing that you can do in any scenario when encountering any person is remind yourself of your own humility, remind yourself of the things you're grateful for, remember that you have something to learn from everyone. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developerty. I know this is much more relational and kind of a neuroscience oriented episode, but I believe that this subject is really important for developers who are going through this struggle of trying to figure out where they fit and trying to figure out if they're good enough to pursue this career. I want to tell you, when it be the first to tell you, you have common ground with the best of the best. You have common ground with the most capable developers. They experience very similar things that you experience on a day-to-day basis. Your life is not so far removed from the people that you admire, from the goals that you have. Remind yourself of this every day that everyone is human, that we all have an opportunity to take advantage of those things. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor, WooCommerce. Head over to slash Developer Tea and use the code Developer Teaall one word to get 20% off. That code is good until the end of March of 2018. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.