Admire and Inspire: Some Thoughts on the Comparison Game

By Katie, 5:26 am

I’m good friends with two very amazing women. We’ll call them Jackie and Jill.

Jackie and Jill are both gorgeous. Stunning, really. On top of their good looks, they’re both really intelligent. Good grades in school and top performers in their current employment. If that weren’t enough, they’re both also really outgoing and have tons of friends. Even though I know they aren’t perfect, because no one is, they sure do have a lot of good stuff going on.


I was recently thinking about the comparison game that we all play – even when we don’t want to play it, even when we’re trying not to play it – and I realized that the way I relate to Jackie is very different than the way I relate to Jill.

With Jackie, I’m always reminding myself not to compare myself to her. I tell myself that comparisons are pointless and fruitless; the only thing comparing ever does is make me feel bad about myself.

And yet with Jill, I don’t need that constant reminder not to get down on myself. I don’t struggle to be happy for her when things go her way. There’s no envy or jealousy…in fact, I sort of look up to her.

There are no external factors that create this difference. Both Jackie and Jill are caring, compassionate people; they don’t flaunt their good looks or brag about their many successes.

The only difference is my attitude, my perspective towards them.

With Jackie, I’m always thinking “compare and despair.” Have you heard that pithy little phrase? It’s useful for remembering that the comparison game is a no-win situation. And yet, as Molly McCord writes in this very insightful blog post another friend sent me, “compare and despair” is an inherently negative thought. It isn’t productive; it’s just a reminder not to be miserable.

The more useful phrase, McCord says, is “admire and inspire.” That’s how I relate to Jill, I think. I don’t compare myself to her in a way that is negative; rather, I appreciate her good qualities in a way that lets them rub off on me a little bit.

Compare and Despair versus Admire and Inspire. There’s a huge difference between those two attitudes, and that difference is compassion. It’s love and light and a willingness to connect with someone for who they are, rather than how you look or feel in comparison to them. It’s an openness to being changed for the better by another person’s positive influence, rather than being sucked dry from a fruitless attempt to ignore your differences.

Admiring and inspiring means that you can appreciate the good in someone else without wanting to change yourself. It means you can look up to someone without tearing yourself down in the process. It means you can focus on ways to feel positive, rather than just trying to avoid feeling negative.

And that, my friends, is how I believe we should be fighting the comparison monster. Not by running away, but by running towards.

Have you ever fallen into the comparison trap? Do you tend to “compare and despair” or “admire and inspire”?

22 Responses to “Admire and Inspire: Some Thoughts on the Comparison Game”

  1. The comparison trap gets me every time! I – and I know I’m not alone – do it with women at work, at the gym, at the grocery store…it’s not just those I know personally, it’s total strangers at times! Your perspective on turning it around is an awesome way to beat the negativity that can come from comparing!

    • Katie says:

      I often struggle with it MORE with strangers, maybe because it’s harder to remember they’re not actually perfect because I don’t know them personally.

      • That’s such a valid point! I see a gorgeous face and automatically my brain jumps to “you should be just like that”, regardless of the fact that I have no idea how that person really is, just how they look!

  2. Kelly says:

    I think for me it depends on the person…I do both things.

  3. That’s such a valid point! I see a gorgeous face and automatically my brain jumps to “you should be just like that”, regardless of the fact that I have no idea how that person really is, just how they look!

  4. Nicole, RD says:

    It is so hard to not play the comparison game. For me, it’s not about looks or brains or anything like that, but about their “pace” in life. Single vs. married…kids vs. kidless….30 hours of work/week vs. 60 hours of work/week…40k/year vs. 6 digits a year. It’s hard to not play the comparison game over these things for me!

  5. Tina says:

    I definately have more moments of comparing. I just recently had this happen over the weeekend when attending a bridal shower. Seeing all of the girls in their cute sundresses in great shape. Alot of them have recently lost weight. I’m finally back to reality today.

  6. I think it’s human to compare…but, as you point out, there’s a healthy way (“admire and inspire”) to do it and an unhealthy way (“compare and despair”). Thanks for pointing out the difference because I never thought of it that way before!

  7. Alexis says:

    I guess coming from an abusive home I learned at a very early age that comparisons have no validity.
    I was always compared to the kids I knew. They were the gold standard of who I should work very, very hard to be like. Why can’t you be studious like Becky? Why can’t you be athletic like Bethy? Why can’t you be slim like Missy?
    Well, Becky was studious. She was also clumsy while I was a dancer. She had no creative talent while I am an artist. Becky also had flaming daddy issues.
    Bethy was an accomplished athlete. She was also a certifiable grade A b*tch.
    Missy’s parents were tall, small boned and rail thin, not like mine, who were short and dumpy. Unless I had my pelvis bone shaved so my hips were as narrow… Kinda not in the realm of reality for me to be just like Missy.
    I have a combination of traits no one else does. I am very happy with them. Personally, I’ll stick with being me instead of feeling bad I’m not just like “whoever” with thinner thighs.

    • Katie says:

      I love this. I always love reading your comments because they’re not just full of wisdom, they’ve also got a good deal of sass to them. I think I’ve said this before, but you should start a blog!

  8. Tamara says:

    I used to “compare and despair” a lot more, but lately I’ve been good about “admiring and inspiring.” There was a girl in high school I did both to. Thin, pretty, popular, seemingly perfect family, and she was so dang /nice/ on top of everything. I was a misfit, but she invited me to sit at the library with her and her former prep school friends. At first I was jealous because everything to come so easy to her. Then I came to idolize her and tried to emulate her. And then I found out a guy I was crushing on liked her so it was right back to the Green Eyed Monster again. I was one neurotic mess.

    But thankfully I’m more comfortable in my own skin now, and I’m in a stable relationship with someone I trust. So when I meet other thin, pretty, popular women I just take it that I should work on this or that if I feel like I’m lacking in some respect. They’re not taking anything from me, so I don’t have to get all worked up about it.

    • Katie says:

      “They’re not taking anything from me.” YES!!! That totally nails it.

  9. bubu says:

    This post, and the comments, are so wise. That last one is spot on: “they’re not taking anything from me.” I often have to remind myself- the fact that that person is taller or thinner or richer has zero correlation to how tall or thin or rich I am, absolutely none.

  10. this is really interesting! you are right there are some women who through not fault of theirs I feel almost a competition with but others that I just really respect. great post as always

  11. MK says:

    I aspire to find the good in people. I find that easier with some traits than others. I find it hardest to admire and be inspired by women who seem to effortlessly have it all together — style, life, everything. Women who look “put together” and seem to have little effort invested in it, as though it’s part of them. I envy the organizational abilities and balancing abilities of other people more than just physical appearance, though that plays a part in it. I just can’t pull off “effortless.”

    • Katie says:

      I get what you’re saying, but I’ve found that even when someone APPEARS to have it all together effortless, the reality is often quite different.

      • MK says:

        I completely get that — intellectually. My gut reaction of jealousy makes it really hard for me to *see* it, though!

        • Katie says:

          I’m exactly the same way. My brain can “get” something logically, but I still don’t “feel” it’s true deep down.

    • alexis says:

      I see that effortless look as them being very comfortable and relaxed with themselves.

  12. Jenn says:

    Love this post!! I just wrote a blog about how comparison is natural. Think of animals that have instincts, they “compare” to know that they are with their type of animal instead of another animal that would eat them. I think everyone/thing compares, but it’s only a bad thing when you feel guilty that you’re not that person. This is really good–we should be going TOWARDS it, and accepting it, rather than trying to avoid it.

    • Katie says:

      Love your perspective! Can you send a link to the blog post? I’d love to check it out!

  13. [...] it’s the flip side of the comparison game I usually talk about; instead of comparing ourselves to people we deem more fortunate, we compare [...]

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