The Comparison Trap: Your Real Life Isn’t A Highlight Reel

Nubby Twiglet | The Comparison Trap

Whenever I’m around someone that mutters “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” I tend to roll my eyes. “I already know that and I’ve heard it a thousand times,” I think to myself. But then I realize how often I forget about it and fall back into the comparison trap.

When I look at people’s lives through their online filter, it feels like one big highlight reel. How can my real life possibly compare? I sometimes get caught up in the comparison game because as much as I love my life, it’s far from perfect. What about you?

When I really start tripping up, I have to remind myself to step back and remember that for the most part, people only share the best moments of their lives online. They’re showing the blockbuster movie trailer while leaving the mortifying moments and sad times on the cutting room floor.

I can’t really blame them. I do the same thing.

When I’m out on the road with The Blogcademy, chances are that I’m dressed up in something fun paired with a full face of makeup and perfectly straightened hair. Though I do have “work days” on the road, most of the time I’m exploring a new city, checking out the coolest shops and restaurants with two of my best friends.

The second I’m home though, I revert back to twelve hour days running Branch, Nubby Twiglet and The Blogcademy. I eat lunch at my desk and my only real break is flipping on Dr. Phil at 3 pm to keep myself entertained.

I wear the same unglam uniform every day when I’m home working — black Urban Outfitters skinny jeans, a black t-shirt from H&M and no makeup. Simple but effective. Sitting in the same place all day, there isn’t much to show so I resort to making a lot of still lifes to fill in the gaps on Instagram.

Nobody’s life is nonstop entertainment. And now that I think about it, I’ve never actually known anyone in real life who had a house that was “Pinterest perfect.”

Because it’s important to stay focused on what I’m doing in real life, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms to block out the noise:

1. Take the weekends and holidays off from social media.

Even if you have to use social media to promote your businesses (like I do), your weekends and holidays should be sacred. Over Memorial Day, Gala and I both knew that we’d have to stay home working and prescheduling blog posts while everyone else was having barbecues and camping so we made a pact to not check other people’s accounts. My productivity went through the roof because I was in the moment and not focused on what I was supposedly missing out on.

2. Accept that committing to big projects is so much more rewarding than tiny, fleeting moments.

It’s easy to look at social media and see people knocking out quick but photogenic DIY’s, rearranging their breakfasts at chic cafes and mostly sharing other people’s work.

It can feel like the cards are stacked against you, especially if you’re writing a book that’s going to take two years, working on a design project at an agency that takes six months (I’ve been there) or remodeling your house on your own (five years in, it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface).

The point is, longer projects are meant to challenge you and downright suck a lot of the time. They’re the ones that really force you to grow and learn about yourself. In the end, you’ll be much better for it.

Those quick, fleeting projects? Sometimes they’re nothing more than a form of procrastination to keep you from digging into the meatier ones you’re scared to start.

3. Remind yourself that what you see others doing is never the full story.

I always tell our Blogcademy classes that they need to stop the comparison game because they don’t really know what’s going on behind other people’s photos or blog posts. It’s never as effortless and pristine as it looks, I can promise you that. You’re not seeing the epic fails, the hilarious antics of balancing on crates to get the perfect shot or the in-between takes of a “casually arranged” still life. You’re seeing the beautifully executed final shot. The outtakes? They’ll never make it to the internet to be judged.

Nubby Twiglet | The Comparison Trap

I actually think it’s more interesting to share the behind the scenes moments, the so-called “picture behind the picture.” When I was staying with Gala’s parents in New Zealand, I happened to be wearing a silk J. Crew shirt covered in oranges. Her parents happened to have a beautiful painting…covered in oranges. While my shot on the left showed me effortlessly posing in front of the painting, the truth was much more involved. I had to lay on the floor while Gala’s dad held up a black blanket to give us a neutral background. Gala leaned over me with her iPhone as I directed her on the angle I wanted.

Kat posted her “behind the scenes” shot right after mine and guess which one people responded to better? The one showing the full story.

Your turn: How do you keep yourself from falling into the comparison trap of the perfect lives you’re bombarded with online?


Image: Shell de Mar.

33 Responses to The Comparison Trap: Your Real Life Isn’t A Highlight Reel

  1. Kate says:

    Hi Shauna,

    I read somewhere (sadly I can’t remember the source) that Facebook allows people to be a celebrity in their own world. I’ve got to say I agree with this and I quit my personal Facebook account more than a year ago and now only run a Page on there for my blog as it just got a bit showy-offy and “look at me!” I couldn’t handle it and it was such a zap and drain on my time.

    I always feel like I have to remind myself that everyone (including myself) only puts the best side of them online. It’s so easy to feel inadequate when looking at what other people are doing, but I always try to remind myself that they are only posting the highlights.

    Thanks for your post. It’s nice to read that someone else blogs with no makeup on in a comfy outfit :)

    Kate x

    • Shauna says:

      Kate: I totally relate to that and have almost quit my personal Facebook so many times for that same exact reason. And there’s no point of blogging in something uncomfortable — gotta let the creativity flow freely! ;)

  2. Gala says:

    Great post, and so true. I think taking the weekends and holidays off from social media is really important, and also not starting or ending the day by checking Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. It colours your day too much!

    • Shauna says:

      Gala: I love the idea of not starting or ending the day with social media. Such a good tip! Even if I’ve had a great day, it does no good to measure it up with the lives of others I don’t even know.

    • Shauna says:

      Kat – RocknRollBride: I love how you’re always there to catch the “real life” moments when I’m orchestrating something grandiose and ridiculous. Haha.

  3. This is so true!! I am starting to just let the world blur out in the background when I am making plans or working towards my goals. I am my own person with my own timeline and goals.I just want to “launch and learn” and it is hard to get that push to launch when I am comparing myself to what other people are putting out there. I love this post and that behind the scenes shot is so awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    • Shauna says:

      Jessica Bramlett: I feel like the comparison trap is especially hard for creatives because there is always something we could have done better in retrospect. That’s why it’s so important to run our own race.

  4. This, this, THIS! I can totally relate. When I make comparisons I just end up feeling defeated. I think enjoying the fact that it’s much easier to escape the public eye makes things less daunting. Some public figures rarely find time where they can just work at their desks in sweats and a tee. We have the luxury of escaping things for a little bit to enjoy the less mediated things in life. Great post!

  5. carmen says:

    Absolutely true. I often find myself doing the same thing, comparing myself to others. Are they more successful? Where were they at my age? In the end, you are you. It’s imperative to realize most people highlight the big, cool, fun moments via the web, not their bad times. We’re all human. :] // itsCarmen.com ☼

  6. Katzi says:

    This is exactly the post I needed to see today because I hadn’t realized that a lot of the times, I’m playing the Comparison Game and find myself wondering why I’m not “this” or “that” or “whatever” when really I just need to stay out of the glossed over things in my news feeds! I know the behind the scenes craziness (I work in Video Production) so I know the hard work it takes to get that one “casually perfect” shot! :)
    Thank you for posting this! xo

    • Shauna says:

      Katzi: I’ve seen the hard work and long hours that go into video production — it’s no walk in the park! You know all too well what it really takes so I’m sure you look at people’s Instagrams and videos in a completely different way. ;)

  7. I’ve made it an unspoken rule to only follow people on social media that have similar lives to mine — that way, it’s hard to have anything to compare. I’m a soon-to-be mother struggling to start my own business, and when I follow other people that are going through the same things, it makes me feel like I’m not alone. I used to follow “megabloggers” who only posted photos of their designer outfits and million-dollar homes, and I really can’t relate, so I unfollowed. It’s not healthy for me to constantly be looking at things that I don’t have (and don’t even necessarily want).

  8. An says:

    Love this post so much, Shauna! I can’t count the hours I’ve spent browsing the interwebs swooning over all those fabulous stories instead of creating and doing myself! And feeling lacking for not being where they’re at in life. And of course, that would lead to another round of internet browsing to distract myself from feeling lacking. Fascinating, right?
    These days, I still love reading other people’s stories as an example of what is possible. But I remind myself that where they are at in life says nothing about where I should be. Their life is not a measure of how (un)successful I am. (The fact that where they’re at in life and where I’m at in life are completely unrelated was a big aha for me!) :)

  9. Leanne says:

    Great post! I definitely know the feeling. Working 12-15 hour days and in weekends stuck in a hospital and then seeing others partying it up on the weekends or travelling got me real down and sometimes jealous! It’s the same feeling when you stumble on a blog which is successful and the blogger seems to live a wonderful creative life and you forget that thy work damn hard to get there in the first place. It’s not all smooth sailing.

  10. Wilma says:

    Love this! I was just complaining to my fiancée the other day that other people on IG in my business world had way more followers than me and I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I decided that my new business was going to be a failure because of it. Oh the drama!! Reframing it to ‘wow look how awesome these people are doing’ and then aligning my dreams and goals to be where I want to be, not where they are stopped the comparison in its tracks. A lot of hard work goes into success, use people to inspire you not to drag you down. Thanks for the great post xx

    • Shauna says:

      Wilma: I love your “reframing” concept — definitely helps to focus on the positive and use it as motivation for how you can personally get from point A to B versus the opposite of, “Their lives are so perfect that mine will never compare.”

  11. I would actually have to disagree and say that social media is such an essential channel of communication that taking a break from it can be detrimental to your fans. I feel taking a break is important but taking 5-10 minutes out of your day to do a post can have a high positive impact.

  12. Ana The Zeka says:

    When I was a kid, I loved reading (well, looking at the pictures in) Kuća STIL (House STYLE) magazine. It all looked so beautiful and effortlessly perfect.

    Then my mother told me one day “Oh, look, it’s my friend’s house! Good work on the back porch, it’s so tidy now. She usually keeps her old bike and tools on a heap there.”

    I started imagining the stories behind pictures after that and was much happier :) .

  13. Nag Dales says:

    I literally just did a post on this!! You hit the nail right on the head! Sometimes all the inspiration stalking I do , turns into paralyzation. The things that were meant to inspire me , suddenly have me immobilized by my insecurity. I love this post.

    p.s- long time reader, first time commenter :)

  14. YK says:

    I found this quite interesting because I’m pretty much the opposite. When I was on Facebook, I would status about bad customer service I’d received or an infuriating interview. If I went on holiday, my profile would be quiet for weeks & when I got back there’d be so much to do, I wouldn’t even get a chance to put up the pics. My online life was such a skewed snapshot of annoying events, rants and absences – which didn’t reflect my life at all.

    Because I knew almost all of my friends in real life, I didn’t feel like I had to show them some well rounded person. Of course, it was often extremely funny to me when friends would try to paint a perfect picture of their life when I knew what was really going on. I just couldn’t stay on Facebook and watch so many people fake it, and that’s one of the reasons I left. If my own friends are lying, everyone must be doing it. I’d rather have a friendship based on reality.

    • Shauna says:

      YK: You’ve obviously got a good head on your shoulders and it sounds like you left Facebook for all the right reasons. Good for you for staying true to yourself.

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  16. MN says:

    Great post. I call Facebook the Altar of the Ego, which infuriates friends who use it mainly for that purpose (not everyone uses it this way). I had my fill of the “Im having the best time EVERRRRR!” posts. I would be attending an event with a friend that would turn out to be boring and the next day see that person’s version of it fabricated as being the greatest night of their life, and “arent you sad you werent there” kinda thing. It actually began to effect the way I percieved the character of certain friends so I had to unplug. Its strange how all these amazing, free promotional tools have these weird possibilities for negative uses built into them. I like your blog and check in several times a week. Its healthier for me than Facebook :-) Thanks!

  17. Leah says:

    This is great and VERY true,I find seeing the “perfect lives on social media leaves me in a battle against the green eyed monster big time feeling like I am missing out so I tend to avoid these days,its better that way :)

  18. Melissa says:

    Great article!The comparison trap is something I struggle with at times, but your article really helped a lot! Keep up the great work!

  19. I’ve got so much more respect for bloggers, vloggers and anyone online who shows both the good and the bad. It’s something I always try to do in my online musings – hence, the title of my blog, Fabulous and other f* words. Comparison isn’t healthy, but neither is people pretending they have perfect lives. UK uber-vlogger Zoella recently posted a heart-wrenchingly honest vlog where she’s in tears for most of it and tells her viewers how she just feels so overwhelmed. Some berated her for not appreciating how lucky she is. Personally, I’ve got more respect for the warts n all approach.

    • Shauna says:

      Samantha Heathcock: Honesty is so admirable because in our hearts, we know that nobody has a perfect life but it takes a lot of guts to be vulnerable and open up. Sounds like Zoella did just that and I think that’s really humbling — it’s always better to be relatable than to be too slick.

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  21. Twaambo says:

    Great post! especially the part about it never being the whole story.How blinded we are, not only to the lives of fellow bloggers but to people in our lives in general!
    Danke!

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