We, like many Canadians, are at the lake for Labour Day Weekend – enjoying the last throes of summer before returning to work and school and the long, dark days of the coming winter. We are part of a recreational park made up of 115 owners of lots with trailers or RVs, properly managed by a Board of volunteers. Yesterday was our annual AGM.
I was reminded of the comparison trap when some of the discussion nearly derailed the otherwise well-run meeting. It happened when, during a discussion of what you can and you cannot build on your lot, some owners started comparing their lots with those of some of the existing properties – work that had been done in the past. Although well-meaning, the discussion soon went into finger pointing and accusations began flying before the chair could bring the meeting back to order.
It reminded me of a coaching session with a leader some years back. He was, like the owners at the AGM, comparing his lot—this time his lot in life and not his lot as in a piece of land at the lake!—to that of others.
He sounded tired (the session was over the phone) and overworked. He was on the senior leadership team of his company and described a situation where he felt he was being treated unfairly by his boss compared to a fellow team member. He was describing how the boss responded to proposals from the other person, compared to the treatment he felt he was receiving. It was leaving him frustrated and unhappy.
One of the gifts of coaching is that as a coach one is looking in on the situation and can simply sometimes make observations and ask powerful questions.
So I described to him what I saw. And I asked a few questions.
I was seeing a very competent leader. I was hearing his exhaustion and also his frustration. I was seeing that he was comparing himself to another. I also saw that it made him unhappy.
I mentioned the dangers of comparing, that this is a trap, a sure joy killer.
When we compare ourselves to others, only one of two outcomes is sure to follow. Either we feel we got the shorter end of the stick and feelings of inferiority and unfairness appear. We are unhappy. Or, we may feel that we are somehow better off than the other, resulting in feelings of superiority. You may think that this will make you happy and sometimes it does, but only for a short while, before feelings of guilt will rob you from all happiness. Either way, it is a trap better avoided.
So my questions revolved around what he wanted, what he was learning through the process and what he thought the ideal outcome of the situation would be.
How could he shift his energy from comparing to perhaps collaborating, to seeing what the opportunity is here and how the process can be taken forward? Perhaps he could find elements that he is grateful for, even in this situation?
I allowed him the time after each question to process. I helped him to reframe his thoughts and his thinking. It took a bit of time, but he was able to refocus and become positive again. He even regained some of his lost energy!
He was able to show up to his next leadership meeting with confidence. He focussed on his own work and performance. He improved his relationship with the boss and did not compare ever again. He was stronger and happier. He was on his way again!
Where is your life are you prone to step into the comparison trap? It can be with relationships. It can be with possessions. It can be with anything!
Back to the lake. We have a disease called “footitis” here. We are always comparing the lengths of our boats. I need help! Mine is only sixteen feet long, so probably the shortest on the lake. What can I do? What would you do?