When Kobe Bryant died earlier this year, most of us remembered a great play he made.
For me, that moment was when he drained a seemingly impossible shot behind the backboard. It the kind of “how did he do that?” moment great performers are known for.
What’s funny is what happened next: nearly every player from every team found an excuse to attempt a shot from behind the goal. They did this even if nobody was playing defense.
They could all hit the shot. But without an example, nobody would have thought to try. Everyone got better because they had a new benchmark for what “better” looked like.
That’s why if you are an emotionally mature person, comparison can be your greatest ally.
My friend Niklas Göke recently had a Kobe moment. He wrote a piece about orange juice. Orange juice. Within 24 hours, the post was sailing around the internet. It hit the front page on Digg and Medium within 24 hours. I gaped at the screen and thought “how did he do that?”
As a writer myself, I had two choices:
The first choice was to let jealousy rain, turn off the internet, and coddle myself by reading one of those books about how I am the perfect snowflake. The second was to read the post and figure out how to improve myself.
I spent 20 minutes in Nik’s post and found these things:
- a dynamite headline,
- thorough research,
- clever structuring,
- clear points,
- wonderful storytelling,
- concise writing,
- and excellent takeaways.
By comparing my work to Nik’s, I gained insight from on all those elements for free. I could now incorporate the lessons into my own work.
$1,600 seminars have taught me less.
When (and why) comparison goes wrong
Comparison most often goes wrong when you aren’t comparing apples to apples. You look at a round figure without context and think “Why can’t I make $X?” 99 out of 100 times, the answer is “because you aren’t doing the same work.”
It’s like being hired for your first entry-level job and saying: “Hey, how come the CEO makes more than me?”
Last Tuesday I bragged to a few of my friends that a post I wrote earned me $47 in 24 hours. That same day, one of those friends replied and said something along the lines of: “Neat! By the way, I heard back from a consultant the other day and he thinks we can sell my site for $54,000 next week.”
So he beat me. But only by $53,953.
With context, it’s easy to see why it would be ridiculous to compare our results.
Here’s what I had done: written a single blog post.
Here’s what my friend had done: spent nearly 3 years learning SEO, writing articles, getting advice hiring freelancers, tweaking site speed, getting backlinks, cashing in favors, and fighting with affiliates. He’d seen traffic spike and drop as much as 50% at any given time. This percentage is not some random vanity metric. It equates directly with how much money comes in to support his family.
My friend and I were doing completely different tasks. However, even two people in the same profession can have enormous income gaps. Does a car salesman make more than the guy who sells software for summer camps? Of course! Why? Because the market is a different size.
When you compare, don’t just compare apples to apples. Compare a red delicious to a red delicious.
Odds are, you’re doing better than you think.
Comparison shows you how to get what you want
“Everyone needs an idol, someone who represents a higher plateau of truth and knowledge.” — Niles Crane
My nephew Colin became hooked on hockey in seconds. He loves the noise, the lights, the fights. We run around his living room smacking rolled-up wads of paper with brooms or pipes or whatever else we can find to serve as hockey sticks.
Colin likes to play hockey. He also wants to be like hockey players. That’s why he conned his mother into buying him a Gatorade bottle like the players have. Imagine, a 3-foot, sweaty kid with messed up hair “skating” to the kitchen, snatching a green bottle with an orange top from his chair, and then spraying it into his mouth and onto his face.
Just like the players do.
Today, there are no secrets. Do you want to look like Mark Wahlberg? His workout is publicly available. Want to write like Tom Kuegler? He shows you how. Want to market like Gary Vee? He tells you how, every day.
The instructions are clear if you are humble enough to follow them.
Comparison gives you rivals (and that’s a good thing)
You aren’t my young nephew, though. You are grown. You don’t have role models, right? Instead, admiration has been replaced by jealousy. You start to wonder — why them and not you?
This line of thinking is what Simon Sinek would call “Traditional Competition.” The issue with this way of thinking is that there must be a winner and a loser. In order for you to succeed, that person you are jealous of must fail.
What if that didn’t have to be the case?
Sinek talks about his struggle with jealousy of Adam Grant, another author, and speaker. Sinek talks about the envy, as well as how he overcame it, in his book The Infinite Game. I’ve emphasized some sections to highlight common errors in comparison thinking:
“The problem was, all the metrics of who was ahead and who was behind were arbitrary, and I had set the standards for comparison. Plus, since there was no finish line, I was attempting to compete in an unwinnable race. I had made a classic finite-mindset blunder. The truth is, even though we do similar things, he isn’t my competitor; he is my rival. My very Worthy Rival.”
When you look at another person in your field, what is it that you really hope happens? Do you want them to fail, to fall? Do you want them to disappear?
If that were the case, would you still strive to improve?
The pros and cons alone show comparison is worth the effort. A few of the pros are that you learn from other people, you figure out the gaps between the best work and your work, and you set yourself against a rival in a way that makes you both better.
Here’s the one con: You might not feel good all the time.
Feelings are nice to have. They can guide you in good directions. But when it comes to the gains comparison brings, consider setting them to the side. Ask yourself: Do I want to feel slightly happy all the time, or do I want to get better?
If you want to get better, dive in. Compare yourself to those you wish to be. Measure your work against the greats.
After all, how do you think they got where they are?
This article originally appeared on Medium.