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The Danger in Comparing Yourself to Others

in Money Basics, Rants

This is a guest post from Jeff Rose. Jeff’s a Certified Financial Planner and the CEO and founder of Alliance Wealth Management, LLC; he blogs at Good Financial Cents and is working on his first book, Soldier of Finance.

Most people that know me think of me as being physically fit. Part of that is probably due to my military background, and I think the other reason people think of me as being physically fit is because they know I do a crazy workout program called CrossFit.

I’ve dead-lifted 515 pounds and I can back squat 335 pounds. I once did a workout nicknamed “Murph” that consisted of running a mile, completing 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 body-weight squats. In case that wasn’t enough, I followed up that workout with running another mile after that!

One of my friends often jokes and refers to me as “super fit.” A few years ago, we competed in the nine mile Urbanathlon race of Chicago, although prior to that I had never ran more than five miles in my life and only one time – the week prior to the race.

So while most people think of me as being physically fit, in the CrossFit community, I’m just about average. Actually, I just found out recently, that my fitness level compared to others within the CrossFit community is considered below average.

13,423 out of 25,000 male athletes

Each year, CrossFit has what they call their Open Sectionals, which allow CrossFitters from all over the country to compete in a five-week training program.

In this program, everyone does the same workout and we compete to see who can do it either the fastest or with the most weight.

You can go through the results online and see how you place, and if you try to find me in the top few places, you won’t see my name.

Actually, if you get to page 250 of 2500 pages, you still won’t see my name. Even though I’ve been an avid CrossFitter since 2005, there are so many other guys that literally kick my butt!

One of the toughest pills to swallow is when you complete a workout and you’ve given it everything that you’ve got. You give that workout a 110%, yet your score is only 50% of what the top guy did, sometimes less! Sometimes I get frustrated, but then I have to remind myself not to compare myself with others.

Comparing yourself to others can have some pretty horrible consequences, but not just in the CrossFit or fitness community.

Accept yourself, but make changes where it makes sense

As I said in the video above, a lot of people get caught up in comparing themselves to others when it comes to personal finance, too.

Have you heard of “keeping up with the Joneses”? This is a phrase that describes people who attempt to make their house as nice as the neighbors, or who try to buy all the same things that their friends and neighbors are buying. Don’t get caught up comparing yourself to others when it comes to your home, clothes, cars, the latest gadgets, and the latest iPad 3 that they just bought.

You have to make financial decisions based on your own situation, and not as a result of comparing yourself to others.

Just like in the CrossFit open workout, I’m silly to think that I should be close to the top spot. The athletes that are consistently placing in the top spots are training for that – day in and day out. They spend hours upon hours each and every day perfecting their skill, perfecting their craft, and that has put them at the top.

If you have a friend who has job or career that pays them well and allows them to have some of the finer things in life, you cannot get discouraged if your income doesn’t really allow for it.

You have to find a way to be fully content with what you have, at least for the time being.

If you have dreams and aspirations of owning a bigger house or driving something nicer, then invest in the time and invest in yourself first, so that you have the income to support those dreams.

Go back to school and get a different degree or a higher degree. Invest in some type of education program that gives you more knowledge and increases your likelihood to get a raise, or to find a job that will pay you more.

Or, find a side hustle that allows you to work on the side doing something that you love so that you can afford some of the things that you want. Don’t compromise your immediate situation by buying stuff on credit cards now, in an effort to keep up with the Joneses.

I think it’s always important to have a mentor in your life that can give you guidance, but the one thing that has always been helpful for me, especially for the mentors that are much more successful than me, is to realize that it took time, sweat, tears, and blood for these people to get where they are.

They didn’t win the mega-millions and become rich overnight. It took time and effort.

Instead of comparing yourself to others – start by looking at what you want to accomplish, and then find a mentor who can help you reach your own goals – regardless of what everyone else is doing.

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Baker’s Note:  Jeff’s an amazing guy to know.  If you loved his post, be sure to check out his personal finance blog at Good Financial Cents

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So is there an area of your life where you’re busy comparing yourself to someone else, either financially or otherwise?

Are you using that comparison to motivate you, or is it weighing you down?

Let us know!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Casey Camilleri May 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM

This is great advice. Not only financially but in life and what you do. Once you figure out what the most important things for you are in your life then you should act according to those aspects not someone else actions or dreams. Live the life you want to live. The competing for cross-fit I believe pushes you to maintain that workout even more due to the competition so in my opinion a little competition actually goes a long way in pushing you with your goals.

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jeff Rose May 11, 2012 at 11:42 PM

@ Casey Absolutely! A little competition is never a bad thing. :)

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Andi Brunett May 11, 2012 at 1:05 PM

I think that self confidence is a very important trait. The important thing is that you are in very good shape, so what if some other people beat you. Maybe you do some other things better than them (more than likely), in which case the whole package ends up being better than that one snippet you’re trying to compare.

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jeff Rose May 11, 2012 at 11:44 PM

@ Andi Couldn’t agree more. In Crossfit I’ve learned to excel in my strengths and “hold my own” in my weaker areas. I think that concept can be applied to most things in life.

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Andrew Wells May 11, 2012 at 1:07 PM

As a poor grad student working two jobs, I have already learned to stop trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” In the same amount of time it takes me to earn my Ph.D. in English literature, other bright young people become lawyers who can start their careers with six-figure salaries. I think it is more important to do what you love than make a lot of money.

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jeff Rose May 11, 2012 at 11:52 PM

@ Andrew When I first started my career, I got paid a “next to nothing” salary. Luckily, I was still living on my college budget, renting a house my 3 buddies and my girlfriend (now wife) at the time. I kept my expenses low – because I had to! – and one of the big things that saved me was driving my 1998 Chevy Lumina that was complete paid off. (Read more here: http://soldieroffinance.com/how-my-grandmothers-1998-chevy-lumina-made-me-over-2-million-dollars/)

That experience of really having to live within my means gave me a whole new appreciation for everything money.

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Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter May 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM

I find I am happiest when I simply live my life based on my own priorities. I try not to compare myself to others as I go, because I’m not them and I have different goals. So even if I am a tiny bit jealous of someone once in a while, I just try to remind myself that I have my own friends, family, pets, and life to enjoy…leave the negativity behind.

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TB at BlueCollarWorkman May 11, 2012 at 4:44 PM

People do tend to compare themselves, especially when that CrossFit program seems set up for you to compare (based on the spreadsheet thing)! But you should really only compare your progress to where you were recently, no one else. And now I sort of want to check out this CrossFit thing.

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jeff Rose May 11, 2012 at 11:55 PM

Check it out! But you have been warned: It’s highly addictive!! Enjoy at your own risk. :)

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Robert May 11, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Jeff, you’re the king. Great article!

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager May 11, 2012 at 5:22 PM

Great article, Jeff. Honestly, I don’t think I compare myself to other enough. (Maybe I’m just weird). Sometimes I think, “Man, I wish I was married like so and so” or “made as much as so and so,” or “get to travel like so and so”. But then I realize that is their life and this is mine and I’m really quiet happy where I’m at.

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Recovering Lawyer May 11, 2012 at 8:20 PM

It is so tempting to try and keep up with the Joneses, especially when they are in your immediate peer group, Every time I see one of my friends buy a new car or home, I have to remind myself that most of the time, those things come with debt. (At least with my friends they do.) Debt is not something I want, so I try to remember that everything comes with a price.

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Chelsy May 11, 2012 at 9:25 PM

Great article. It reminds me of a message I heard 12 years ago (at the age of 16) that I’m forever grateful for listening and paying attention to! I also find myself in awe of others’ things but this message keeps me grounded and brings me back to reality: don’t compare yourself to others– but to you. Are you the best you? Could you workout more/volunteer more/save more/spend better/ and so on? This isn’t meant to constantly beat you up, but to realize that there’s always a little room for improvement and incremental small changes can make a big difference over time. If we all took this perspective and if we all remained honest with the lifestyle that our income provides us, we (and the economy) would be in much shape (physically and fiscally)!

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Nick May 12, 2012 at 8:05 AM

I think the take away is to keep working hard and learn as much as possible from those ahead of you in whatever race you’re in. Also don’t raise your spend when your income goes up!

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Eric Hanby May 13, 2012 at 1:26 PM

Even though I haven’t seen most of them in about 5 years, I find I keep comparing myself to my high school classmates. Through the magic that is Facebook I get to see that many of them have become Doctors, Lawyers, Businesspeople and the like. Many of them have bought houses and a few have multiple children. Then I look at myself working at a run of the mill job just making ends meet and living in a two bedroom apartment. It sometimes is depressing but I constantly remind myself that happiness and contentment are a choice. If I get up in the morning and choose to be happy, it doesn’t matter what they have or what they are because I am me and it’s going to be a good day.

P.S. On the flip side of things it does make me feel better to think sometimes that there is also a number of my classmates that have criminal records and/or are in prison. I’m not that far gone yet lol.

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