August 6, 2013

Nothing can make you reevaluate your life quite like attending a party where most of the people are much more successful than you.

Not because it’s humbling. Not because it inspires you to do more or make more money (which is what too many people focus on in these situations)

But because occasionally you will run into someone–a person who has objectively done more or has more success than you will likely ever have–who, nevertheless….

-Has less swagger
-Talks less about themselves
-Is more interested in other people
-Is still willing to learn (has less emphatic opinions)
-Dominates the conversation less
-Undersells their accomplishments

You can’t run from or deny this–this implicit counterexample right there in front of you. It is a wordless indictment of you and the hubris and pride you’ve picked up over time.

And then you have to ask yourself, what’s my excuse? Where do I get off being such an asshole? It doesn’t look so good in comparison, does it?

Or I suppose you could miss all this or lie to yourself–giving yourself a bunch of disingenuous answers as to why you act like you do. But that’s another flaw on top of all the others.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

28 responses to Comparison

  1. | -Is still willing to learn (has less emphatic opinions)

    I think you hit the nail on the head here, some of the most successful people I’ve met are the ones who never stop learning, never stop asking questions, never stop giving.

  2. I picked up a copy of Meditations and refer to it constantly to try and remind myself of these lessons. Many of your posts feel like modernized versions of the ideas from that book, which is fantastic. Thanks for all the free writing you do.

  3. I would add: someone who has less fear than you. Fear is always a big factor (which is, I think, the source of the excuses and the hubris). Great post – very necessary.

    • I think it’s possible to still feel fear and be extremely successful, the difference being that the person always acts immediately in the face of it.

  4. I like Mark’s comment above, but I believe that it shouldn’t be added to the list. Having less fear is likely a factor that allows the individual act as such.

    @Ryan, I think you meant to write success in this sentence, “But because occasionally you will run into someone–a person who has objectively done more or has more successful than you will likely ever have–who, nevertheless….”.

  5. This is so true – and often falls under personal branding struggles, too.

  6. Let me guess: You are talking about someone who stole attention from you at a party despite your wild successes, Holiday? How about reevaluating your choice of living one of the greatest hypocrisies of the 21st century?

  7. This is a timely post, as I found myself in this situation last night.

    It is humbling to find yourself doing this – defending yourself to people far more successful than yourself – and to stop and ask yourself why you’re doing this?

    It is valuable to compare yourself to them in this way, rather than comparing out of jealousy for the accomplishments that they have, and a spirit of competitiveness, where you learn nothing.

  8. “-Has less swagger
    -Talks less about themselves
    -Is more interested in other people
    -Dominates the conversation less
    -Undersells their accomplishments”

    Definitely not Tim F.

  9. Insightful post. I find that it’s rare that I am comparative with other people and their alleged successes in life. It still happens but infrequently. That wasn’t always the case. In my instance, something clicked in my late 30s and I no longer had the inclination to use the success or failure of others as a reflective benchmark. Since becoming a parent, the performance issues that matter to me seem to relate (almost exclusively) to whether or not I’m fulfilling my duty to my son – loving him and teaching him to make good decisions. I’m convinced that there isn’t a way to compare the performance of those duties to other people in a way that’s meaningful. So, the comparative center in my brain seems to be stuck at “indifferent.”

  10. Great post, Ryan.

    One of my favorite strategies for staying grounded, humble, and empathetic (regardless of your accomplishments) is reminding yourself that successful people are just people. They have anxieties and weaknesses and insecurities that drive them as crazy as yours drive you. They even get themselves into serious trouble.

    Perfect example: last summer, I wrote a killer guest post that helped launch my business. But I almost didn’t live to see it. The next day, I was admitted to the emergency room with a life-threatening throat problem. Had I gotten there even one or two hours later, I would have suffocated to death, and none of the self-congratulatory phrases on my LinkedIn page would’ve done a damn thing to stop it.

    I wasn’t magically transformed into Mother Theresa the next day (that would be a laughable lapse into the Narrative Fallacy) but it has made me look beyond a person’s “curb appeal” and know that we all have our burdens to bear no matter how successful we are.

    • So, Ryan posts about the virtue of talking about yourself less and underselling your accomplishments. You respond: you like to remind yourself that successful people have weaknesses, and your example is that you (“successful” person talking about himself) almost died (again, talking about yourself and your “weakness”) after writing a post that made you look good on LinkedIn (a website that literally monetizes overselling your accomplishments)? Bravo.

      • Jim,

        Fair enough, perhaps I made my point clumsily. I was trying to say that a person’s accomplishments are only a fraction of their whole story, and that your own humbling moments can put your own accomplishments in their proper, smaller perspective. You are not what you achieve, or even what you fail to achieve, because when grief or disaster or doubt strikes none of those things help you very much.

        Thanks for keeping me on my toes 🙂

  11. Last week I attended an Ayurveda Practitioner conference and there were over 200 high ranked people there. I noticed that those who had just started out were the ones doing most of the talking, promotions while the renowned ones kept silent and spoke to and made connections with only those they found interesting. One of these top named doctors came up to me and asked me about my practice and I gave him a quick summary and asked him to provide with me some input on how to proceed with my small business. We then spent the next half hour in a deep and engaging conversation, where the older doctor gave me probably some of the best advice ever. He then gave me his private email and asked me to keep in touch.

    What I learnt from this event is never go in full guns blazing. Take your networking one step at a time. Connect with other influential people slowly and follow up with them on a regular basis.

    Great post Ryan, really appreciate it.

  12. Sounds like every Hollywood assistants/junior agents networking event I have been too.

  13. Indeed! Those are moments that slap you in the face with “actions speak louder than words”… where every loud idea of power gets destroyed by someone ignoring their own wins

  14. It’s refreshing to see someone being honest about this.

    I get so tired of people who like to brag at every slight thing they do or aquire – to the point of rubbing everyone elses face in it and driving them up the wall. I just want to say to them ‘Just get over yourself’. It doesn’t make people envy you, it makes them think what an idiot!

    I much prefer a bit of modesty!

  15. I have to ask Ryan… Did you ask these people if THEY felt successful? See, YOU stated that they were successful. But this is just your interpretation, of how you believe success & happiness to be. Maybe they don’t feel successful, maybe they aren’t happy internally, or maybe they’re just shy/socially awkward. Hell, maybe they’re just afraid that people will react badly to them being boastful.

    See, I always notice. When people bring this up, about being humble is the key to success, they forget that this is just they’re observations/predictions of the other persons behavior. They never get the true story. I also don’t get, why we feel in society, it’s a problem to be prideful in what you’ve achieved. Then we wonder, why the majority of us are battling self-confidence issues. How does this move us forward?

    No wonder some people are afraid to achieve anything, because they know they’ll have to deal with all the naysayers & down players. Also, why in part do you think marketing is so successful? Because a lot are unconfident in their abilities and easily swayed!

    This is a little long & turning rantish, so I’m gonna stop. But before I do, I advise you to stay strong. Be boastful and take pride in what you’ve achieved! But to do it right, bring it out in others. If you get a critic, ask them what they’ve done recently (that they’re proud of), and allow them to celebrate in they’re pride too!

    Oh & PS: if you haven’t already read Atlas Shrugged. Great book for this topic!

  16. Quick question about your new book “Growth Hacker Marketing” which will be available on 03 September.

    Are your fake profiles, fake testimonials and fake reviews in place, or are you working on them?

    Just wondering.

  17. Hey Ryan, you’ve shared a great blog post. It’s really worth joining this discussion. I really enjoyed reading your post & all of the commentators thoughts regarding comparison you’ve made of successful individuals.

    I would like to say the comparison is good. It’s helps identify your weaknesses and strength compared to a far successful person than you. The thing is you’ve to take the comparison result positively, rather than feeling jealous of someone better success than you. When you have the feeling of learning from comparison, you’re in the process to achieve success as well.

    Anyway mate, you’ve helped your reader learn something different from this post, and hopefully you’ll continue sharing similar interesting blog posts ahead.

    Take care…

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