Updated: May 20
“Am I Falling Behind?”
First, The Good News
I know about the fear of falling behind. Who doesn’t? It’s such a weird, private sting to the ego. Comparison.
Watching the pace of your competitors can be brutal. You’d like to be the kind of person who cheers others on, but your inner voice screams -
“Crap. I’m falling behind. I’m falling behind!”
There’s just something about seeing the success of certain people.
Your competitor has so many followers, so many subscribers, so many clients.
He has such style. She looks so confident.
Your competitor is basically everything you have pinned to your vision board.
It can really throw light on how far you are from where you want to be.
I get it. It’s human. I defy anyone who has internet access - or who made it through high school - to avoid this feeling.
But comparing yourself with others can be like a toxin in your soul, especially when you’re stretching outside your comfort zone. You’re out on a limb - professionally, personally - and the vulnerability factor can skyrocket there.
So first, the good news. You’re actually not falling behind anyone.
Yep. Your self-comparison is not the precise yardstick you think it is.
Treating your self-comparison like real data is like treating a fun-house mirror as if it’s a regular mirror. It’s going to give you a very distorted impression of what’s true.
It can create resentment, nurture serious self-sabotage, and ultimately make you doubt your own journey. In fact, if you use that mirror, the things you were proud of yesterday will suddenly seem too small to care about.
So let’s stop a second. We’re just going to step back a bit because I think we’re missing something. Something important.
Your competitors’ success may make it seem like you’re “falling behind.”
But that nemesis - the one who makes you cringe - is one of the most valuable players on your team.
I know. I know. Sounds like crazy talk.
But if “comparison is the thief of joy,” why hold onto it so tightly?
Let’s set comparison aside and examine how your competitors could be holding the door open to the next level. Then, let’s explore a better way to encounter comparison the next time it comes calling.
Getting a Return on Your Competitor’s Investment
We talk about the “marketplace” all the time like it’s an actual place on a map.
It’s not, of course. It’s a place in our minds and in the minds of our customers.
Still, the marketplace has imaginary boundaries.
As consumers, we have a sense of what’s a viable product or service and what’s some random bit of weirdness sold on late-night tv. Or at least, we think we know what’s what.
But those mental guardrails can make things really hard for a new-ish industry, or even an older one that’s going through deep change.
Untested ideas can seem too experimental to attract timid buyers.
An unformed market increases a sense of risk and dilutes your power to message properly.
But not to worry - all those competitors ahead of you? They’re helping to build your new market. They’re drawing boundaries and creating a stable space where you can show up and kick ass.
Think about it. They’re sort of marketplace...pioneers.
When they arrived on the scene, it was a consumer wilderness. Your competitor got to work figuring out the terrain, normalizing your industry, and clearing the path for your product.
Arun Agarwal, the Managing Director of TPG Global, believes that competitors can be a major help to those who are running with - and behind - them.
“[Without] opponents that offer options in your category, you take on the complete burden of market formation….In a competitive market, your rivals’ marketing dollars work alongside your own to educate prospective buyers on each of these elements, helping you both succeed. “
Your competitors kindly swallow a lot of your costs to sell the concept of your industry.
With a more formed market, your service - which was once seen as a luxury or a curiosity - is now seen as something useful, even necessary.
That’s the gift of following, not falling, behind. You inherit the leverage of a sturdy marketplace.
Falling Behind The Future...A Harry Potter Moment
I’m going to geek out on Harry Potter for a minute. Do you mind?
In the third HP book - The Prisoner of Azkaban - Professor McGonagall secretly gives the young heroine, Hermione, a magical gizmo called a Time-Turner.
The overachieving Hermione - ironically concerned with falling behind on her studies - uses the device to turn back time to attend three different classes at once.
Not how I’d use it, but…
(This is going somewhere. I promise.)
At one point Hermione goes back in time and catches up with another version of herself on the timeline. From behind her other self, she gasps, “Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?!”
Having a competitor who is ahead of you is a little like having a Time-Turner.
But instead of looking at a past self, you get to watch your future self from a distance.
Your competitor is YOU, but later on your timeline.
Listen, everyone starts more or less where you are, but we don’t all start at the same time.
People hustle up the timeline according to - among other things - when they arrive. When you look at your competitor, you’re looking at a version of you up ahead.
You’re not “falling behind.” You’re observing your future from the back.
That person you’re comparing yourself to is a valuable window into what’s coming - a flesh and blood avatar of your future self.
Instead of worrying about falling behind, maybe:
Gain inspiration from their magnificent triumphs
Learn from their colossal failures
Clock their expert pivots
Gather insights from their marketing experiments
Rehearse - risk-free - a bunch of plausible futures.
Guys, this is golden-goose type stuff. And they’re lavishing it all on you.
They’re practically handing you a crystal ball. Don’t waste this power.
Now Let’s Play “What Would Oprah Do?”
Let me ask you something.
What do you think of an entrepreneur who invites a competitor to collaborate?
Maybe they do an interview on Youtube together or the two co-host an event.
Do you watch and compare them the whole time? Do you think “who’s falling behind who?”
My guess is you don’t.
I don’t. In fact, I usually think they both seem kind of badass. Both look successful, sane, and secure.
A person who welcomes a competitor as a collaborator is someone I’d like to do business with. It creates an impression of a positive, innovative, fearless business where things get done.
When you open yourself up to collaborating with competitors, they cease to be merely competitors. They become colleagues.
So my suggestion to cure yourself of the comparison vibe? When you feel like you’re going down a rabbit hole - ask yourself, “What would Oprah do?”
Okay...yeah, Oprah has no competition. But as a model of someone who builds status through collaboration, you can’t go wrong looking at Oprah.
The world is Oprah’s co-worker.
Everyone is her collaborator. Her teacher. Her mentor. Her mentee.
It makes us trust and love her. It makes us seek her out as an authority.
So. What would Oprah do if your competitors were her competitors?
She’d invite the competition in and leave the comparison out.
She’d ask them really good questions.
She’d break out the cappuccino and laugh at the idea of falling behind.
She’d make a relationship that breaks new ground.
I invite you to do the same.
Ask a competitor for an interview, meet them for coffee, or just give them a thumbs up on a post.
Cultivate this mindset and you could connect with some great people in your industry. You’ll be top of mind for referrals and show potential clients that you can be trusted.
Best of all, you’ll gain and deserve the status of a secure and generous leader.
Falling Behind to Get Ahead: Getting Comparison Right
There’s more than one way that comparison plays out - in your health, your business, your relationships, and your reputation.
Indulging it can drain your self-esteem, erode your credibility, steal every last scrap of perspective, and just make life gross.
Good ol’ Marie Forelo spelled out the perils and rewards of threading the comparison needle.
”Get this wrong and you’ll alienate yourself from strategic partnerships, look like a jack ass and waste a ton of time and energy nursing your comparison hangover... Get this right, and you’ll not only become the preeminent force in your market, but you’ll also have industry colleagues who rally to support you.”
Look, I know falling in love with falling behind is not an easy ask. But that’s not the ask.
Go ahead - reach, stretch, and pull out ahead!
Just remember every place is the right place to become the person you want to be. If you don’t use this spot on your timeline - to learn, to connect, to grow the hell up - you’re wasting this moment.
To answer the question in the title - comparison is likely a dead end.
Your competitors, on the other hand, are not.
I’m willing to bet they’re an entry point to the future.
So...open up. Let your future in.
Are we buds on Instagram? No? For the love of holy hippogriffs, what are you doing!?