Project Practitioners > Comparison Is a Trap

Comparison Is a Trap

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt


Social media provides a bevy of ways to compare yourself at any level. You go on a vacation to Disney World with your family. Someone else went to the Bahamas. You get a promotion at work. Someone else started their own company. You buy a new car. Someone else bought a newer car.

If you want to compare yourself, you can constantly do so all day, every day. When you start to do that, you will feel insufficient, like what you have is never enough. You have a steady job with people you like but it is not the dream job you saw someone else has.

Larger organizations provide comparisons within arm’s reach. There is no need to log in to any social media accounts. You have a project manager sitting next to you who has a newer company vehicle and hired a better team member. That project manager also received a raise not that long ago. You can become resentful through comparison.

Even though who you are comparing yourself to has more experience, been with the organization longer, and has the authority to hire whoever. Those logical reasons for having more does not resonate with you. Also, the same feelings you have for them someone else has about you.

This game of comparison is never-ending. Say you have the newest company vehicle, not even the owner has a newer vehicle. Yet, the second someone else gets that opportunity, you already want the next one.

The time and energy wasted on a nonexistent game is endless. Those thoughts can be put into your team and how to improve the project. Instead, you are consumed by what others have. You are stealing your joy.



Realize when you are comparing yourself to others. The first step in improvement is to say you have a problem. Recognize how much this game of comparison costs you. The difference between a 2018 and 2019 vehicle is marginal at best. The only difference could be the headlight configuration. Yet, you decide that tiny difference is massive.

It is a hit to your ego that you no longer have the newest. Your project is no longer the biggest in the organization. Your vacation overseas is no longer the latest story people talk about because someone else went too. These thoughts start to consume your work. Rather than thinking about the plan and schedule of your crews, you want the next thing.

Being aware of your thoughts is simpler with silence. Take some time, alone, to see where your mind goes. Is it focusing on the project/task or wandering to some post you saw about what you do not have? Make those subconscious thoughts conscious. Bring them to the forefront and deal with them.

If a problem or issue occurs on a project, you handle it. Why treat these thoughts any differently?



Your chapter 2 is different than their chapter 8. In reality, there should be a difference. Some people have all of the money upfront. Others need to scrape by for a decade before their break. These experiences and starting points matter.

An experienced project manager leads a team on the organization’s largest project. That 15-year head start should not deter you from your progress. You are comparing your start to their middle. You have a white belt, and they have a purple belt. That difference needs to be observed and respected.

The real secret to this is your white belt days might be more productive and advantageous than the person you are comparing yourself to. At the same points in your careers, you may be farther ahead yet fail to realize this because you are comparing at different points in the race.

A good comparison is to look at your own experience and see how far you have come. Are you still struggling with the same problems, or have those issues progressed to bigger and better? Have you added tools to your toolbox that your white belt self never thought possible?

Focus that comparison inward. Your chapter 2 should be unrecognizable to your chapter 8.



The process or journey should be the focus, not the results. If you read the fine print on every commercial, it reads ‘results may vary.’ Take that into consideration. Your working out five days a week has a different impact than someone else’s five days a week. Genetics, diet, recovery, and so on all make those results vary.

You may think your resume compares favorably to a colleague’s. In the end, he or she gets the promotion over you. You become ungrateful for your current role and start to wonder why. Neither of you may be ready for that next step. However, someone has to get it. Would you rather be an unprepared senior project manager or an overqualified project manager? The overqualified person continues to get better and improve on skills while the unprepared individual starts to regress under the stress of underperforming.

The skills do not match the title. Therefore, you continue to thrive in your role while the other person flounders. Does that mean you could have done a better job? Maybe. Time will tell once you are given the opportunity. In the meantime, continue to grow and learn. The journey never ends. The promotion is not the destination. Enjoy.



Comparison can rob you of the here and now. Rather than enjoying the journey you are on and becoming the best project manager you can be, you start to want what others have. Your goals become physical objects to recognize your ego. This change of direction results in a constant battle for more.

Be aware when you start to compare. Notice it creeping into your mindset and how it is impacting your outlook. You are likely to become negative and jealous. Even though you have all you need, you still want more.

Comparison will occur. You must take note of how you are comparing. Make it a level playing field if possible. The 15-year veteran of the organization has massive advantages over someone starting. You should not have those same perks. Even if you think you are better and more qualified, you have to earn those.

When all else fails, enjoy the ride. All of this is temporary. The ending is the same. The curtains close. Will you be remembered for the newest car you had or the biggest house on the block, or how many people you impacted over those years? Be the later, and enjoy the journey.

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