How To: Avoid the Comparison Trap

As an upperclassman, the alarming speed at which my college graduation date approached me was accompanied by a mixed bag of feelings: excitement, relief, apprehension, gripping fear, etc. I often felt what I imagine it feels like to jump off a cliff, not knowing what awaits at the bottom of the foreseeable abyss. Dramatic, right?

When it came to conversations surrounding my long-term and, more often, short-term career plans, my natural reaction was to attempt to distract the person asking questions and promptly remove myself from the conversation. Even after graduating, I have still felt pressure to provide a five-going-on-fifty year plan to my dentist as she prods around my mouth and asks what I’m interested in doing “when I grow up.”

To be honest, the overwhelming pressure to be certain of, not only what’s next, but next after that, prevented me from having many of the productive and exploratory conversations that I yearned for. 

The Comparison Trap

If every student traveled along their career-prep journey in a protective bubble, the daunting task of deciding what their vocation is would still be stressful. This means, of course, that adding approximately 18,000 other BU undergraduates (and their respective career ambitions) into the equation is bound to raise stress levels.

In truth, I am in the process of realizing, and learning to believe, that comparing the many facts of my work-life (salary, satisfaction, relevance, perks) to that of a friend or distant connection on LinkedIn is like comparing apples to oranges: fruitless. However, if you were to guess that doing just that is my guilty pleasure, you would be right! Not only is making career comparisons easy, but it seems to reinforce the unrealistic idea that I am most likely the only person that’s ever experienced career uncertainty in the entire history of the world.

Overcoming Temptation

The reality of the situation is that comparison is a part of human nature. We are social creatures, and, therefore, extremely vulnerable to the internal dialogue of “better than, worse than”. But don’t lose hope! There are ways to combat those feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.

  • By whatever mechanism you deem appropriate (a post-it-note on your bathroom mirror, a daily calendar reminder, a saying that accompanies a deep breath every morning), force yourself to remember that everyone moves at different speeds along their life paths. Moving slowly, and thoughtfully, can indicate that you’re putting in the work to avoid rashly deciding on a career move!
  • When a person in your life approaches you with a personal career inquiry that you don’t feel equipped to answer, try rephrasing the question! Using phrases like “right now I’m really enjoying”, “I’m researching more about” and “X is really interesting to me because” can provide you with additional springboards to redirect the conversation (and your thought processes!) in a direction you’re more comfortable with.
  • If choosing a career move or path seems too overwhelming right now, seek out the resources available to you. The Center for Career Development staff can help you brainstorm the questions you should be asking, and exploring the tools that will prepare you for where you’re going next!

Let’s face it: determining a life-long career path at the ripe age of 22 (or, actually, at any time) is INTIMIDATING! Embracing that fact of the matter can allow you to pivot towards more productivity and motivation, rather than getting weighed down by the unknown.

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