Stifling comparison, the thief of joy
by Raven Ballard, PLPC, MOLAP clinician and well-being coordinator
President Theodore Rosevelt was known to say it: Comparison is the thief of joy. Though many of us have heard this quote before, it doesn’t necessarily make comparison any less difficult. A study completed in 2016 screened 11,516 lawyers and found that 45.7% of those who had been surveyed reported depressive symptoms (Krill, Johnson, & Albert, 2016). The questionnaire measured a variety of symptoms including sadness, motivation, and sense of self-worth.
Whether depression is a presenting concern or not, self-worth is nearly always discussed when I work with lawyers. What I find most interesting about these conversations is that it regularly comes from a place of comparison. I’ve heard many statements such as: “It feels like I’m the only lawyer struggling with finances” or “Why does it seem like every other lawyer has their stuff together and I’m the only one failing to keep it together?” I’ve even heard statements as far as “I think I may be the only unsuccessful lawyer in the entire state.”
Hearing these statements makes me want to reach through the virtual platform or telephone and give them a hug. It’s so difficult feeling like the only person who’s not thriving in their career and being too embarrassed to speak to other lawyers about it, yet because these conversations don’t come up organically in nature, the comradery of this shared fear is never addressed. Whether we want to admit it or not, comparison is at the root of this self-worth dilemma – always comparing your losses and downfalls to the successes and wins of your colleagues.
The reality is that we’re all struggling in some form or fashion. For every time I’ve had a lawyer question their own self-worth in their profession, I’ve heard just as many of those individuals claim that they feel as though they must hide their shortcomings so they can still keep the social image of “having it all together.” This then leads to a different lawyer believing that the first lawyer must really have it all together and this problem of not being good enough is one that they must be facing alone. The truth is that many lawyers struggle with mental health, financial distress, and family/home problems while also trying to juggle the task of being a lawyer.
Here are some strategies that you can begin incorporating into your daily mindset to stifle comparison and the feelings of isolation that ultimately come with it:
1. Focus on your strengths. What are the things that you’re good at? Have you had any recent wins or successes that you’re currently discounting?
2. Practice gratitude. What do you have to be thankful for? Comparison almost always makes us focus on the negatives in our lives, so flip that! What are the positives?
3. Learn to celebrate the wins of your colleagues. Steven Aitchison said it best: Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine brighter. Nor does celebrating the win of a colleague make you any less successful.
4. Learn and practice contentment. Find peace with where you’re at in your life and the journey you’re living. If life was a plateau with no ups or downs, it would be pretty monotonous. You can find tons of gratitude and contentment meditations on YouTube!
5. Take social media breaks. Social media loves to create comparisons, so if you find yourself in a comparison loop, try taking a break from the news and social media. Use this time to reflect in a journal, go for a walk, or read a good book.
Lastly, I think it’s worth noting that a study conducted in 2015 aimed to find what exactly it is that makes lawyers happy and define professional success. Their ultimate conclusion was that lawyers tend to thrive when they feel they have the ability to be autonomous in their work; are awarded the ability to show up authentically at work (i.e. leaving the façade at home); have relationships with others and feel supported and socially connected; and feel competent in their work. If comparison is ruling your thoughts and emotions, it might be a good idea to reflect on these factors and how prevalent they are in your life, while also trying out the tips mentioned above.
If you would like to discuss any struggles you’re having with comparison, the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program is here to help! Please consult the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free, confidential counseling.
Cruze, R. (2023). How to stop comparing yourself to others. https://www.ramseysolutions.com/personal-growth/how-to-stop-comparing-yourself-to-others
Krieger, L. S., & Sheldon, K. M. (2015). What makes lawyers happy? A data-driven prescription to redefine professional successes. George Washington Law Review. https://ir.law.fsu.edu/articles/94
Krill, P. R., Johnson, R., & Albert, L. (2016). The prevalence of substance use and other mental health concerns among American attorneys. Journal of Addiction Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4736291/