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October 1, 2020

Feel like you're lagging your colleagues? Here's how to harness that feeling productively.

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Oct. 1, 2021.

    While your peers' accomplishments sometimes can serve as a source of inspiration for your own goals, they also can become a source of insecurity, Nihar Chhaya, an executive coach and president of PartnerExec, writes for Harvard Business Review.

    Bolster employee engagement amid Covid-19

    Although "conventional wisdom says to 'stop competing with others, only with yourself,'" putting that mantra into practice is "easier said than done," Chhaya acknowledges. However, Chhaya offers five strategies you can use to help you stay connected with your peers and "harness the positive benefits of competition without suffering from the insecurity it may breed."


    5 ways to stop feeling like you're falling behind

    1. Identify and monitor your triggers

    First, Chhaya writes that whenever you feel stressed about seemingly falling behind your peers, you should figure out what triggered that feeling. For example, maybe you tend to feel insecure and isolated when you scroll through social media. This isn't a unique experience, Chhaya writes, as research has found that using social media can make our inherent negativity bias worse.

    Once you figure out what triggers your feelings of insecurity, "you can transform them into opportunities for a more productive response," Chhaya writes.

    2. Purposefully reframe your feelings

    Once you identify the situations that trigger your feelings of falling behind your peers, you could be tempted to stop doing whatever is triggering that feeling, Chhaya writes. But he notes that ceasing those activities may not be the best solution. Instead, Chhaya writes that you should "deliberately engage those feelings to your benefit."

    For example, if you're feeling insecure while looking through social media, you could ask yourself why you're scrolling through social media in the first place. If the answer is boredom, then "intentionally decide to engage for entertainment" instead of allowing the activity to feed self judgement, Chhaya writes.

    You also could choose to take a more objective view of a peer's accomplishment, Chhaya suggests. For instance, "the next time you come across news of a peer's career success and find yourself feeling inadequate, step back and observe your feelings without judgment," he explains. "Then make a proactive commitment to view your peer's progress objectively, as if you were a journalist researching their story rather than someone in direct competition with them."

    However, if whatever triggers your insecurity becomes "disturbing for you," taking a break is warranted, Chhaya writes. It's important to remember, though, that you can approach those activities with an attitude towards learning. "Instead of saying to yourself, 'I wish I did [or had] that,' ask yourself, 'Why can't I do [or have] that?'" Chhaya writes. "Then take some time to listen to what ideas emerge in your mind."

    3. Leverage your strengths to regain validation and momentum

    If you find yourself both feeling insecure and pondering how you can catch up to your peers, regain your sense of validation by "taking small actions to achieve small wins," Chhaya writes.

    As an example, Chhaya notes that one of his clients was "heartbroken" that his planned promotion to SVP was postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic, and the client worried that his chances of getting the promotion could diminish with time. To disrupt his feelings of negativity, the client decided to leverage his writing talent, and he put together an article for his company's blog on leading through the epidemic—which became the most-viewed blog post the company had ever published.

    His client's experience is evidence of how you can "[d]ouble down on your core strengths, express them to the world, and use the validation for a shot of resilience," Chhaya writes.

    4. Redefine who your peers are

    Comparing yourself to a fixed set of peers puts you in a "zero-sum game where you are either ahead or behind," Chhaya writes. However, if you expand your peer group, "you create less of a binary evaluation of your success and enable new domains to dominate."

    Chhaya references Jackie, a director at a Fortune 100 company who "was passed over for a VP role for three years," which made her "feel more hopeless and stuck in her current position."

    To combat these feelings, Jackie started networking with others outside her company who had values like hers. By doing so, Jackie "not only neutralized the pain of self-comparison in her company, but felt energized and motivated to re-evaluate her career aspirations," Chhaya writes.

    5. Get rid of your internalized expectations

    The idea that "you should not only outperform your peers but also want all of what they are trying to achieve" is an especially damaging mindset that should be avoided, Chhaya writes, as having this so-called "'tyranny of the should'" mindset "creates a never-ending race in which you can never enjoy what you have already gained."

    Instead, Chhaya writes that you should "[c]onsider the possibility that everything you have chosen to do until now has always been the right path, regardless of what you think you were supposed to do." Don't look back, Chhaya writes. Instead, evaluate the decisions you make in the future based on whether they provide you with opportunities for growth. "To change course based on what others want or have will keep you perennially behind and at the behest of your peers," he notes.

    Overall, Chhaya writes that "[a]ny endeavor in your career and life will inevitably bring bouts of self-comparison and insecurity." However, he notes, "[W]henever you feel like you're falling behind others (whether that's true or not), you can use these strategies to regain your confidence and excel in the competitions that genuinely matter to you" (Chhaya, Harvard Business Review, 8/25).

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