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A Breakdown of The Paradox of Comparison


Daniel LeMoine is a social entrepreneur, change-maker, and writer. Here he writes at the intersection of faith, work, & building a matterful career.

A Breakdown of The Paradox of Comparison

Dan LeMoine

“Don’t focus on the competition, they’ll never give you money. - Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

[This article is a continuation/development of The Paradox of Comparison which I hope brings more clarity of thought, as well as how to effectively use comparison as a tactic to win.]

I mentioned previously that comparison to others is a paradox. Something that is wise but at the same time foolish, depending on who, when, how, why, and where on your journey you’re comparing. In this post I want to break down exactly when it is wise and when it is foolish.


Here is when it is wise to compare: when it’s the basics, the blueprint, the how-tos, when you’re thinking about starting something matterful. It makes sense to look to others when you have no framework on even where to start or what the journey to success could look like. It is helpful to look at how others have done things to begin wrapping your mind around what it’ll take to get you launched, or get you to the next stage of growth.

Getting an idea of what success can look like in your endeavor is a great way to conceptualize the journey and reverse engineer how to get there. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS agrees. He says, “Learning how someone else is already doing the thing you want to do, or a version of it, can eliminate fear—every path is easier to follow when you se someone else’s footprints already on it."

If I wanted to build a rocket ship I would look at Elon Musk and SpaceX. If I wanted to turn my blog into a viable revenue stream (which I have no intentions of doing right now btw), I’d look to Chris Guillebeau (The Art of NonConformity) or Pat Flynn (Smart Passive Income).

When I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle I first watched others do it—noting where their feet went, how to use the brake, how to incorporate the clutch while they shifted gears. In other words, I needed to learn the functions and the “rules” to the game. 

"You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, and a pilot wouldn’t fly an airplane without a flight map.” — Steph Crowder,

When NOT to compare

After you’ve learned the functions and the rules. After you’ve benchmarked and gotten a rough idea of what success can look like in a given endeavor, stop comparing. 

When you’re constantly comparing and competing with anyone but yourself (and against mediocrity), it distracts you.

Let Go Of The Need to Win

Jeremy Bloom, Olympic Skier-turned entrepenreneur says we need to let go of the need to win.

Sometimes we get stuck analyzing and thinking about what everyone else is doing and what we need to do in order to win. It’s important to take a moment and focus on what really matters to you and what motivate you intrinsically. To become more intrinsically motivated, I stopped focusing on beating others, getting rich, and caring what everyone thought about me. I began to focus more on what I wanted to get out of life, and the person that I ultimately wanted to become, and how I could get better at whatever I was doing. And Ironically, I started winning much more often.*

[WORLDVIEW REFRAME: I would only add to Jeremy’s wonderful insight in this way: we’re called to not just focusing on what you want to get out of life, but what you want to give in life. “Count others more important than yourself” (cf. Philippians 2:3). We don’t just focused on who we want to ultimately become, but we actively work to aligning our desired identity to be consistent with who God has called us to be as individuals and a community.]

I remember reading somewhere that racers preform better when they are unaware of other competitors around them. (Unfortunately, I was unable to find the source where I read this, so please take this as simply anecdotal.

Now, I'm not advocating for a let's-all-get-trophies-and-sing-kumbaya type market. I love competition, and think healthy competition fuels innovation and progress. But as we strive to innovate and grow, focusing on our competition too much will actually stifle our ability to win.

Big Takeaway

This gives us a better idea of when it's appropriate to compare and when not. It’s good to pick up a tactic here, or a style there, or get inspired from him, or find a new approach from her. But beyond that, just relax, have fun. There is no room for keeping up with the Joneses in your career or when building your organization. Our competition is ourselves and mediocrity.

One of the Expeditionary Learning design principles which informs how we instruct the kids at the school I serve for as the Director of Growth & Development is Collaboration & Competition. "Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.” 

We compare to others in a spirit of collaboration and leanring. But we compete with ourselves.