“Comparison is the thief of joy.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Have truer words ever been said?
It happens in our careers.
Let’s say you’ve been working at your job for a few years, and you just got a promotion. That’s awesome! But then you find out your friend got hired by a competing firm, and they gave him a big-fat raise... and benefits.
All of a sudden, what made you feel excited yesterday makes you feel like you got the corporate shaft.
Comparison steals joy.
It happens with our health.
Let’s say you’ve been a Cross-fitter for a few months and just got your first strict pull up. Congrats! But then you watch someone at your gym do a muscle up, and you feel like a total wimp.
All of a sudden, what made you feel accomplished yesterday makes you feel like the little, skinny kid on the playground.
Comparison steals joy.
It happens in our relationships.
Let’s say you’ve been dating someone exclusively for a year, and you’re enjoying a happy and healthy loving relationship. But then you find out that yet another friend just got engaged, and she’s only been dating this guy for a year!
All of a sudden, what made you feel cared for and content makes you feel like you’ll be that “old cat lady” in no time.
Comparison steals joy.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we constantly wonder if the grass might be greener somewhere else?
Even when our grass is really, freakin’ green!
My first job was a sparkling example of this phenomenon.
Several years, I started a (short-lived) career on Wall Street. I distinctly remember thinking:
Wow… this is it… I’ve made it!
Yes, I was naïve, but can you blame me?
I mean, come on! I was living in Adult Disneyworld!
Want to take some clients out for dinner? Four star restaurants and reserve wine lists are the standard.
Have to travel for work? You’d never settle for less than black cars and business class.
Need to buy… umm… anything? Not only can you afford it, but you probably know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can either get you an insane discount or give just give you that thing for free.
Like kids in candy stores only different...
I honestly remember thinking, how could anybody want anything more?
Yes, this was naïve, too.
It took about, oh, two-and-a-half seconds to realize that Wall Street is probably where the whole “grass is greener” metaphor was invented. Not only did everyone want “more”, but as soon as they got it, they were on to the next “more.” There was always a “there” to get to, if catch my drift.
Just bought a million-dollar house? Guess what—one of your coworkers just got a ten-million-dollar house on a four-acre compound complete with a private garden, a lap pool, and a full-size basketball court—one inside and one outdoors, of course.
Just took your family on a trip to Europe? Guess what—one of coworkers just got back from two weeks in Southeast Asia that included a brief jaunt into Tibet where he was able to arrange a private meeting with the Dalai Lama—for free.
Just closed your first deal? Guess what—one of your coworkers just closed his 10th deal, got asked to ring the opening bell at the NYSE, met Richard Branson, and now spends weekends on Necker Island—by private invitation, only.
There was literally no end to the comparison
There was always “more.”
There was never "enough."
On one slow afternoon, we got to talking about this particular phenomenon. One of the most popular discussions on the trading floor centered around this concept. We called it, your “number.”
Your “number” was a mythical amount of money you needed to have “enough.”
In reality, It was the amount where you could finally admit you hated your job and wanted out.
But, conveniently, no one wanted to admit that…
The not-so-astonishing thing was that no matter how many times a person was asked this question, he could never come up with an answer.
No “number” was ever “enough.”
No one was ever satisfied! No amount of money was large enough. No matter how much someone had (or could conceivably have), no one ever felt like he had enough to be done comparing himself to others.
Contentment, I learned, was a four-letter word.
One day, I let my naiveté get the best of me, and I questioned my boss about this phenomenon.
“Do you think this has to do with the whole “grass is greener” thing?” I asked.
I should have known better...
My boss had a particularly dark interpretation of this concept.
To be fair, he had a particularly dark interpretation of most things in life.
But I digress...
As he put it,—the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, the grass wasn’t really green anywhere. According to him…
The grass was just shit-brown… everywhere.
Yes, he actually said that.
The grass is just shit-brown… everywhere. So why bother?
I think that was the first moment that I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…
I remember laughing, awkwardly. I remember thinking that statement might be the most cynical thing I had ever heard. But sadly, I remember thinking that, however unfortunate it might be, he actually had a good point.
After all, if everyone is always caught up in not having “enough” and keeping up with everyone else and worrying about what they don’t have, their grass will probably look pretty shitty no matter what side of the fence it’s on.
But I recently learned that we don't have to long for greener grass or settle for shit-brown sod either.
I submit, to you, this alternative.
Maybe your neighbor’s grass wouldn't be greener (and your grass wouldn’t be shit-brown), if you just watered your side of the lawn.
This idea was developed by my dear friend, Kyle, during a fairly recent, red-wine-induced epiphany.
Rather than worrying about what other people possess (green grass) or worrying about what we are missing (shit-brown grass), why don’t we take the time to appreciate what we already have?
Why don't we just water our own grass?
Don’t let comparison steal any more of your joy. Don’t worry about greener grass, and certainly don’t settle for shit-brown sod, either.
You deserve to have green grass, but it won’t just be given to you. You have to water it. You have to appreciate it.
Then, you have to let the green grass grow.
Now, I want to hear from you!
- Is your neighbor's "grass" greener, or is your "grass" just shit-brown?
- What can you do TODAY to start watering your own "grass"?
Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.