Don’t Compare Your Business to Anyone Else

Group of customers holding speech bubbles with comments on business

We’re in the midst of graduation season. This is the time when we teach kids how to compare themselves to other students based on numbers that may (or may not) be related to their future success. These include grade point averages, SAT scores, athletic achievements, and class standings. Depending on the student, these comparisons may be motivating or discouraging.

The same thing happens in business. Comparing ourselves to our competitors can be a very positive process as we reflect on our past successes/failures and make goals for the future. What is detrimental is when we look at our colleagues, competitors and mentors to beat ourselves up for how we stack up. In my experience, this type of comparison can be de-motivating and unhelpful.

Who do you compare yourself to?

I have a Facebook friend who is perfect. She’s a self-employed professional with a successful business. She’s also kind, smart, beautiful, energetic and very athletic. From what I can see, she is deeply in love with her husband and on great terms with her family. Her five (yes, five!) children appear to be equally kind, talented and successful. Even her dog – a purebred from a top breeder – trumps my rescues with their history of neglect and abuse.

I often show my husband her social media posts, with the explanation of “this is my perfect friend.” Whether she’s running a triathlon, enjoying a luxury vacation with her extended family, cuddling her equally perfect grandchildren, or attending a formal dance with her husband — it’s hard not to (negatively) compare myself to her.

However the truth is that we are very different. While I admire her athletic ability, I have no desire to run marathons, ride my bike along a highway, or do ocean swims. Nor do I want her super busy social life or travel schedule. Comparing myself does nothing except make me feel bad about myself.

Why Your Results May Vary

Do you have a perfect friend or mentor? Since we often come out as inferior on a comparison, I invite you to consider what makes you different. Your goal should be to be the best version of yourself, not a copycat version of someone else.

Here are some things to consider when comparing yourself to other solopreneurs:

  1. Personality traits. I am an introvert. To be honest, I like my quiet life with my family and hanging out with my dogs. I prefer reading to partying, which doesn’t make very exciting social media posts. It’s not fair to compare myself to extroverted folks who thrive at social gatherings and networking events. Similarly, an extrovert should not be shaming themselves for enjoying socializing more than reading or introspection.
  2. Motivation and Goals. We succeed in areas that get our attention, whether it’s building a business, excelling in a sport, or raising our children. I spent many years homeschooling my two children. I am very proud of those years (and the subsequent success of my kids), but that decade took attention away from my business. It’s not fair to compare myself to someone who spent that decade solely focused on building their business, when I chose to prioritize different goals.
  3. Physical challenges. Toothaches, migraines, back pain and arthritis are just a few of the physical challenges faced by solopreneurs. According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic pain affected about 20 percent of U.S. adults in 2016 and high-impact chronic pain — severe enough to interfere with life or work activities most days — affected 8 percent. After undergoing a total knee replacement in 2018, I can say with certainty that physical challenges had a big impact on business. It is unfair to compare my progress in 2019 to someone who was not sidelined by surgery. (Source)
  4. Mental health challenges. Depression affects over 18 million American adults every year. Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 5 to 9 million people. Bipolar Disorder 6.3 million people. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects about 8 million adults. In addition, according to Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, nearly 21 million Americans struggle with substance addiction. (That’s more than all of the people with cancer.) If this is a challenge in your life, it is unfair to compare yourself to someone who doesn’t need to spend time managing a mental health issue. (Source 1 and Source 2)
  5. Caregiving. In my experience, most female solopreneurs are responsible for more than their business. Usually we are running a household, caring for others, and contributing to our community. If you are spending time raising a toddler or caring for an aging parent, it will impact your business. Don’t compare yourself to a responsibility-free solopreneur who is able to work 24/7.
  6. Natural ability. As solopreneurs, we spend a lot of time working outside our areas of brilliance. For instance, I am a naturally good writer and enjoy creating content. Unfortunately I am not a good photographer and loathe making changes to my website. It does nothing for my confidence when I compare my weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.
  7. Financial resources. One of my colleagues used her trust fund to start her business. She was able to hire people to create her website, as well as assist with marketing and public relations. She also hired an elite coach and invested in event sponsorships to quickly grow her business. While she undoubtedly worked hard to achieve success, her financial resources enabled her to grow more quickly than a solopreneur bootstrapping their business.
  8. Life experience. Did you start your business from a place of self-love and self-confidence? Or are you working through issues of self-doubt or failure? If so, give yourself credit for learning how to speak on a stage or be present on social media. Nobody has the same life experience. Most of us must work hard to overcome personal issues that seem to come easily to our colleagues.
  9. Team-mates and helpers. Don’t compare yourself to people who have more resources than you do. I follow several YouTube content creators who do their own video filming, editing and uploads. I also follow YouTubers who have a team to handle their hair, makeup, filming, editing and distribution. While managing a team has its own set of challenges, it’s unfair to compare your one-person operation to someone with a dozen employees.
  10. Environmental factors. I have a colleague whose home was heated with a poorly functioning, oil-burning furnace. Winters were very unproductive because she was so very cold. The newly functioning furnace changed her attitude and she immediately became more productive. There are other external factors that may impact your productivity – wildfires, blizzards, heatwaves, noisy room-mates/neighbors, or political unrest – that affect your business.
  11. Education and experience. Most solopreneurs have a big learning curve. Although we’re competent experts in our business (in my case, writing), there is a lot we don’t know. It takes time to create systems related to sales, marketing, accounting, websites, insurance, intellectual property, paying taxes, and more.
  12. Coaches and mentors. Working with the right coach or mentor can definitely accelerate success. (Working with the wrong coach, or the right coach at the wrong time, can be devastating to your business.) I have personally made both good and bad choices in this area – and seen the impact on my business.
  13. The rest of the story. I have been a fan of Lady Gaga for the past decade and greatly admire her talent. I was surprised to discover that she had been raped at 19-years-old, developed PTSD and fibromyalgia, and required medication for her pain and mental health. We do ourselves a disservice by comparing ourselves to people without knowing their story. (Source)

Focus on yourself, not someone else

Rather than comparing yourself (or your business) to someone else, focus on yourself. Build on your talents and what makes you unique. Accept that we are all individuals with our own gifts and challenges. Compare yourself to where you were last year or ten years ago – not to someone else.

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