Women have made a lot of progress. There’s no denying it: we are doing more than ever, holding down jobs that just a few short years ago were considered out of reach, letting our voices be heard, and successfully working in male-dominated industries, where we are finally getting the acknowledgement we deserve.
But last week I was speaking to a group of women, and in the Q&A session following my speech, a woman in the audience stood up, approached the mic and asked me what is one of the things that I believe is holding many women back today. I paused and thought for a minute, knowing what I wanted to say but debating in my mind if I wanted to go there. I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t met with the resistance I suspected; it was met with acknowledgement and understanding. I said, “What’s holding women back is us, and more specifically, how we get caught up in comparisons to other women.”
It takes a certain kind of competitiveness (I might even say hutzpah) to thrive as a woman in a male-dominated workplace or industry. When we band together as women, we make better progress, climb faster and shatter ceilings. But I’ve noticed a cycle, and it’s not necessarily predictable. After a big breakthrough, we sometimes see stagnation and, in many cases, animosity between women. It’s like we’ve gone from being our biggest cheerleaders to playing for the opposing team. Much of the time, from what I’ve observed, it all comes down to comparisons that we make. What’s worse is that these comparisons are usually unsubstantiated and completely misguided.
I’m bad when it comes to comparison. I compare fruit colours. I compare which of my eyes has more wrinkles around it. I compare the length of my hair from six-months ago. My tendency to size things up is endless. This constant analysis, assessment and appropriation helps me process information and make good decisions. Unfortunately, it can also make me critical and judgmental. At its worst, this tendency pushes me into jealousy and insecurity.
When we start comparing our lives to the lives of friends, colleagues and others, it’s a formula for disaster. Do you ever catch yourself thinking things like, “She has it made,” “That is so much more glamorous than what I’m doing,” and “How is she even successful? I have so much more to offer.”
Nothing good ever comes from this kind of thinking. If you have thoughts like these, don’t beat yourself up, though. Our brains are wired in such a way that when we see someone else with things we don’t have, we automatically go into comparison mode. You have to stop this line of thinking in its tracks the minute you catch yourself going there. Stay in your own lane, doing the unique things you were wired to do.
Check In With Yourself
As the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We need to keep in mind we don’t know the struggles and sacrifices on the flip side of others’ success. Perhaps we wouldn’t want to pay the price. Maybe it looks good on them, but wouldn’t fit us the same, whatever “it” is.
I’ve learned to be comfortable saying, “Good for them,” even when I have to shush the little voice that whispers, “Why don’t I have that?” The temptation to feed jealousy and insecurity lessens when I reflect on the things for which I am grateful, like good health, a career I enjoy, and a home.
In fact, this kind of self-reflection, or checking in with yourself from time to time, is a vital part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It will keep you grounded and help you turn your envy toward a more useful and positive direction. I highly recommend that at least once each day you spend a little time examining your thoughts, desires and actions. What are you thinking? Who are you supporting? Who is supporting you? What can you improve on? What do you need to change? Are you making comparisons?
Women Need Women
At the end of the day, women still need women in good times and bad. The best thing you can do is act like a sister and celebrate all the successes your fellow women experience. When they are going through tough times, be there for them and support them in any way you can. This is a reciprocal action and when you’re in need, they will be there for you.
Our progress as women is remarkable, but we still have a way to go. The journey is far from over, and in fact, we are just getting started. The only way we are going to make it is if we put down the comparisons and continue to support one another in whatever life throws at us. Together, anything is possible.
Rene Banglesdorf is the author of Stand Up: How to Flourish When The Odds Are Stacked Against You. She has overcome a number of life’s obstacles, become a dominant force in a male-driven industry, and is a speaker and mentor to women around the world.