Face it, your friends and colleagues are more popular than you.

The statement is true, we are our worst critics. How many times have you found yourself frustrated at that person at your gym because they are in better shape than you, or at your neighbor because their house has more worth than yours, or how about your friend that is making more money and reaping more success than you? We could go on and on comparing our own traits, assets and abilities to others, but if you haven’t noticed already … it’s only leading us to trouble.

Friendship Paradox, Talascend IT Blog 4.25 It is hard to overcome these simple ideologies that we think define us, but the “friendship paradox” proves that this human annoyance is real and everyone struggles with it. The explanation is based on a numeric pattern that mathematically proves that we will never be as popular as our friends.

This paradox, first publicized in 1991, has recently been retested and applied to current social media situations where it still holds its truth. Not to make you feel even worse, but you have less Facebook friends than your friends do as well.

Certainly there are a few of those extraordinary outliers that have more twitter friends than there were students in your entire college or those who make Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique look pudgy and there will always be those people whose ATM balance is higher than the amount of miles on your 10 year old car. These are all exceptions that skew the average, making us fall below the normal, further feeding our anxieties.

I’m not a big fan of clichés but think about this for a second. You know that saying “the grass is always greener on the other side”? Well it turns out … it really is greener over there. The problem is that we can’t ever get there! There is no way possible to catch up to those outlying exceptions whether it’s a Hollywood superstar, a talented athlete or simply the person next door. You likely can’t ever cross to the higher side of the average, so “keeping up with the Jones’” becomes merely an exercise in futility.

How often do we compare ourselves against the people less than our standard and step back to realize our achievements? Not enough. In most cases of self comparisons, we match ourselves up against the unachievable. This unrealistic match adds to our frustrations and brings our insecurities to the forefront. Let’s take the case of your gym friends, for example, that are in better shape than you. You are comparing yourself to a group of people that are consistently working at bettering their health and body image. What you are not taking into account are those people sitting at home eating pizza on their couch. The average comparisons are non-representative and will never align.

So what can you do?
Beat your own averages by allowing yourself to be your greatest competition. Imagine if your average work productivity was measured this week. Next week comes, you measured it again and your average is higher. That would be the definition of self improvement, no? Granted, there will always be someone in the office that measures 4X as productive as you due to whatever unique circumstances they have built up to or lucked into, but don’t let this influence you. You’re not trying to beat them; in fact you’re better off ignoring them and working your own average should be your sole focus.

Don’t get me wrong, emulating other’s actions is a great way of help influence your own success; ask any investor who mimicked Warren Buffet’s financial moves over the last 30 years, but Warren Buffet should not be your primary method to measure yourself up against. You will never compare exactly in your successes.

Utilize your past to make improvements on your future. If you go on an interview, be better than you were on your last 3 interviews. If you are holding a meeting, be more efficient and effective than you were during your last meeting. If you are dealing with a sensitive situation, learn from past scenarios and deal with it better.

Perhaps this all sounds a little basic, simple lessons we were taught in kindergarten to not worry about what other people are doing and to only worry about ourselves. The truth is, we as humans can’t help but wonder about other people and how they got where they are (be it good place or bad). Once we accept that the “greener side” can only exist by measuring ourselves against our own past, we can then begin to succeed in our future.

If we could apply this logic to the majority of professional situations, we’d certainly achieve far more.

Josh Kaplan blogs on a variety of subjects including IT Staffing and IT Healthcare Staffing.

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