Aim up and compare down

By comparing up to ideal solutions or people, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration. Instead, aim up and compare down to celebrate your achievements.

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Ever felt down after you’ve spent some time on social media? Chances are, you’re comparing up: you compare yourself to someone who you feel is better at something than you are. Which makes you feel inferior.

There’s always someone who can do something better than you

For example, you see someone on LinkedIn who has just scored a multi-million project. Suddenly, you’re not so excited about your own new project anymore. Or you see a beautiful person on Instagram and feel the urge to change your diet or work out more to get into better shape. But there’s always someone who can do something better than you. And if you constantly compare up to them, you’re setting yourself up to fail. You’ll never be able to celebrate your own successes.

My quest for the perfect oven

When I was looking for a new kitchen, I got lost in the exciting world of ovens. Every time I thought I found what I wanted, a more expensive model with more features popped up. And I would suddenly feel that I totally needed these features. And then an even more advanced model popped up, and so on. I started wondering why I got sucked into this feature race. I can cook, but not so well that I need a 3000+ euro oven for it. I realized I was constantly comparing up: the oven I selected was always missing something compared to the more expensive model. I feared I would regret my decision if I took the model with fewer features.

The developer’s quest for perfect code

There are always new possibilities to improve code

Comparing up can also be a problem for developers. When I used to program, I was almost always unsatisfied with the work I delivered. The final code wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, or I had to scrap some ideas because of time/budget reasons. If I only had another couple of hours, it could be perfect. But I didn’t realize back then that I would still be in the same situation if I spent these hours. There are always new possibilities to improve code. You can always compare up to an ideal solution. If you focus on that, it makes it hard to celebrate what you did achieve.

A way out of the trap

So how to get out of that trap of comparing up? You simply have to compare down. Duh ๐Ÿ˜‰. Don’t compare down to other people, but compare down to the previous situation. So, I changed my train of thought for the oven and compared down to the crappy second-hand one I currently use. Suddenly it didn’t matter that much anymore: any new oven would be way better than what I have now.

With programming, it works the same. Compare down to the situation before you finished your work. You’ve added a new feature or bug fix that makes the experience of the client better. You have learned something from the code reviews you got, or you got to experiment with a new library. At Easy LMS, you have to leave the code in a better state than how you found it. So you probably cleaned up some technical debt or created new documentation. This makes the development experience of you and your colleagues better.

Celebrate what you did accomplish, don’t lose yourself in what you didn’t achieve

Aim up and compare down

So it’s totally ok that you don’t reach perfection. Learn from what happened, but don’t lose yourself in what you didn’t achieve. Compare down and celebrate what you did accomplish and what you did learn. Be proud! When you feel dissatisfied about a solution or about yourself, try to compare down. Please, do try it! After you’ve done it a couple of times, it becomes more natural. But make sure that you don’t stop aiming for the best solution. It’s ok to not reach it, as long as you’re moving in the right direction. That’s where you’ll learn the most.

Keep this in mind: aim up and compare down. This is also the title of this blog post by Josh Linkner, which totally changed my perspective and led to me writing this post.

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