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Trees don't compare themselves

The boxelder tree doesn't stand next to a cottonwood tree in spring time and lament, "Why haven't I started budding."


It’s doing the inner work necessary to grow buds. Eventually the boxelder tree will have leaves as well. And photosynthesis will occur.

Yet as humans, we are obsessed with comparing ourselves to each other.

Proud parents show off their baby’s skills at walking early (a talent which precipitates other stressful changes). Meanwhile parents of the baby who hasn't walked at twelve months worry there's something wrong.

Normal human development occurs within a range. The supposed, late bloomer, is actually developing right on time. It's ok that their own journey looks different. So why do we add stress to these situations by drawing comparisons to others?

We do this to ourselves professionally. Seeing someone else succeed at their ventures faster or getting promoted quicker causes flickers of doubt and insecurity. That leads to telling ourselves stories of not being good enough. All of which, just creates more stress and wastes energy.

Rather than doing the work necessary to achieve our goals, we get lost comparing ourselves to others. Trying to be just like them doesn't yield the desired results because we aren't them. We can only ever be ourselves.

The same dynamic is at play in organizations.

I have a client who's boss used to work as a VP for Google. Now he's the executive for product development at a significantly smaller company. When setting goals for his team, he continually draws comparisons to the output they were able to do at Google.

He expects his team to be able to perform on par with a company that has substantially more resources including money and employees. This is, not surprisingly, stressful to the team.

My client is continually managing up. She spends a lot of time shielding her team from the unrealistic expectations by setting clear priorities. Meanwhile, she's routinely advocating to her boss about their capacity, encouraging him to make more grounded decisions.

Some might say this pressure spurs creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, because it's unfettered, it leads to burnout and turnover. Both of which are extremely costly to the company. Not the mention the wasted time and lost productivity from consistently needing to reset expectations.

It would be much more efficient for her boss to stop comparing them to Google and more deeply understand their unique working assets and processes. To guide them to greatness by focusing on the inner work rather than looking at what's happening elsewhere, expecting their throughput to be the same.

It's easy to accept that everything in nature happens in it's own time and in it's own way. As humans, we have the choice to acknowledge that our paths, as people, professionals, and organizations may unfold differently than others. And that's not only ok, when we can embrace it, we experience greater ease in our journeys.

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