Comparison: the Stealthy Joy Thief

Benchmarking: it’s about 30% of my day job. If I’m being honest, it’s my least favorite part of the job description. If my coworkers are being honest, they dislike it just as much.

Without going into extreme detail (hard to do), we spend countless hours seeking out comparable data points from the minutiae of our industry. Some of the data is hand gathered from our own clients while other data comes from reports made by other people pulling similar data points from their pool of client contacts. One of our newest initiatives is evaluating the quality of all these data sources for accuracy and relevancy. Why? Because we all know that a beautiful looking benchmark built from useless data is another way of presenting a spectacular waste of time. That’s the last thing we want to do!

When we do find good data, we take great pains to mash that data through procedures and into templates that allow for a true apples to apples comparison. This “mashing” must be as thorough and meticulous as possible. How else can we consult our clients on how to evaluate their current situation? How else can they make informed decisions?

You might be wondering at this juncture why I’m droning on about benchmarks in a blog that paints comparisons as a stealthy joy thief. No, it’s not because this job responsibility of mine might threaten to darken the joy I find in my work. Instead, it is (ironically) how the business act of comparison compares to the emotional one we all complete daily.

Take, for example, me as a teenager. I used to spend countless hours seeking comparable data points between my brothers and me. Brother #1 played the clarinet; I played the clarinet. Brother #2 performed in show choir; I performed in show choir. Brother #1 got amazing grades; I got amazing grades. Brother #2 was the cool social, guy; I certainly tried to be the cool, social girl. Brothers #1 and #2 were artistic, creative thinkers; I fought to prove myself as artsy and innovative. And it wasn’t enough to be just like them; I pushed myself to find ways to one-up them. And I still felt miserable about my sense of self. I wasn’t myself at all.

Take, for example, the friend who gave me the idea to explore comparison further as a joy thief. This gal, from my perspective, is a confident mother and wife who successfully balances working part time, having her own side business, and rocking an incredibly fit body through an intense eating and workout regimen. All that, and she still fights the mental battle of not being a good enough mom and wife, not being a successful enough professional, not being a beautiful enough woman–all because of the “perfection” social media pummels us with daily.

Take, for example, the colleague who thinks he will never be enough because he continues to be professionally stagnant while his friends are getting business promotions or getting to do their dream jobs. He must smile and celebrate their accomplishments as they make enough money to put down roots in a giant house and support an ever-growing family…

Talent. Appearance. Professional status. Income. Possessions. Success.

We must love the emotional benchmarking we do because we do it constantly. Okay, I guess I don’t totally agree with that statement, but comparing ourselves to others is human nature. And with modern day technology, it’s in our faces every. damn. day.

Forgive my language, but this infuriates me because of how easily it robs us of joy. What starts as an honest evaluation becomes an inability to feel okay–an inability to feel fulfilled. “Enough” becomes a moving target because as soon as we achieve the “if only I could ______, I’ll have made it,” someone shows up and raises the bar to a new level of what we deem awesome.

Here’s where that aforementioned irony kicks in. At work, we labor arduously to make sure our data points are accurate and relevant. We recognize that, if the comparison is not apples to apples, it’s useless in helping us evaluate the situation.

As for the personal benchmarking? It’s an apples to dried-up-rotten-half-eaten-cores comparison, and our psyches prevent us from seeking out better data. We have no clue what the whole story is behind the our internalized data sources; we see only the “perfect” (cough cough) data they present against our own embarrassing failures. Worse, we then make extreme, uninformed conclusions from this evaluation about our self worth. All this from a benchmark that the business world would deem a spectacular waste of time.

Friends, I implore you (and me) to explore a different approach. Do some reading about exercises to stop comparison’s stealthy shift from innocent evaluation to relentless self-scrutiny. There are SO MANY resources out there. (Sometimes the internet is actually helpful!)

Define by your standards what is “enough” for you. Define what truly matters to you, not to the media. Look at all the blessings you enjoy as your perfectly imperfect self. I can almost guarantee that you’ll find your beautiful life to be pretty amazing right now. Today. No comparison required.

Take it from someone who does benchmarking as 30% of her job. There are much better things to do on your own time.

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