Comparison is Corrosive

While running some errands right before the new year's weekend, I ran into a lawyer I knew. We were opposing counsel in a case that was tried over 10 years ago, back when I was still a defense lawyer. To say the matter was a contentious one would be a huge understatement. I remember it vividly.


As he stood by his car, a very nice late model Porsche, we chatted pleasantly enough for a few minutes. Wishing each other a happy new year we parted. He went into the store I had just left. I went to my car, a beat up 20 year old Subaru Outback.


I would like to be able to say that I did not even have a slight twinge of envy with regard to my former adversary's beautiful car. That would be a lie, however.


I didn't lapse into some fit of jealous rage, but the comparison was one I could not escape - and it was not a comfortable one. I couldn't even console myself by declaring that I could buy a Porsche if I wanted one. Yes, I could drive a much nicer car than my old Subaru, but to say I could own such a Porsche would involve a twisted definition of affordability, at least by the standards of my family.


Years ago, my wife and I had a friend who was known to cut off certain conversations by declaring that "comparisons are odious." She was right - annoying as that observation could be at times - and that insight has stuck with me.


It's almost impossible not to make comparisons with others, especially when there is some stark contrast as to material possessions. Social media bombards us with the great vacations and blissful families of others. It's easy to feel inadequate and unhappy.


Being content with what you have and comfortable with who you are not easy propositions for any of us. For a trial lawyer like me, it's antithetical to what I do. Professionally, trial lawyers live in a world of winners and losers. Litigation is an adversarial process, after all.


If a former opponent drives a sports car valued well over $100,000 and I am cruising around in an old beater, that says something about me - and it's not good.


Except it does not.


Evaluating yourself in contrast to the possessions or projections of others is just putting yourself in a cycle of despair. You'll never be satisfied and you can only make yourself more miserable. It's corrosive, even for competitive characters like trial lawyers.


Work very hard to avoid judging yourself in comparison to others. Be deliberate about doing so. It's not easy.


Truly, comparisons are odious.