Feeling Inadequate When Comparing With Others

Feburary 1, 2021

Louis Tay

I was preparing to leave Singapore for graduate school in the United States when I bumped into an elementary school friend. We quickly got caught up, and he asked what was next for me. On hearing that I was about to pursue a Ph.D., his mood turned sour.

“That’s good for you,” he kept repeating. But his tone was tinged with envy.

I was astonished because I had always compared myself with other friends who were then starting as lawyers, bankers, doctors, engineers, and the like. And ironically, I had not thought much of my career path in comparison with others.

As Theodore Roosevelt put well, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And in this situation, comparisons robbed the joy for everyone involved.

Classic work in psychology by Leon Festingerhas pointed out that we intrinsically engage in comparisonswith others. We do this because we desire to know where we stand. Yet, we can go about this in amanner that robs ourhappiness, like turning on the light to look aheadbut finding ourinadequacies spotlighted.

Over the years, I have learned that feelings of inadequacy often arise when we rely on perceived external metrics rather than our internal compass. Instead of comparing, we need to look inward to find the cardinal directions for our life and calling.

You may want to put a pause on social comparisons and ask yourself these questions and consider the answers:

  • Are you doing what you are passionate about doing? If so, continue to do it because you love it –not because of greater prestige or income than others.
  • Are you adversely reacting to other’s success? If so, proactively take time to reset and calibrate to your calling.
  • Are you feeling unhappy because of where you stand? If so, focus your energies on cultivating your own strengths and talents.

May we all engage in fewer social comparisons and experience greater well-being.

Be well, 

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science.  Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!

Visit this page to learn more about members of the Research Collaborative

Well-Being   Resources:

Office of the Dean of Students, Student Support Services

Counseling and Psychological Services

Virtual Student Life


To join the conversation and learn more,
use the hashtag #PurdueStepstoLeaps  on social channels:

FB Logo    Twitter Logo    Instagram Logo