Law school is built around comparisons. You likely chose to attend Baylor based upon how it compared to other schools, either overall or within a particular category. Rather than just provide an objective evaluation of your academic performance in the form of a GPA, we also assign a ranking within the class, which appears (and in many cases is) more heavily weighted by employers and others. It can also show up in the little things, like how much other people are studying for a particular final or what summer clerkships other people have lined up.
And while some of these comparisons are necessary, and perhaps at times even beneficial, I want to challenge you today to examine whether you are allowing too much of the wrong types of comparisons into your mind. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And in Galations 6:4-5, Paul writes “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”
Why is comparison such a potential danger? President Roosevelt and the apostle Paul make the spiritual and emotional case, and I’ll leave those for now and recommend you pursue them further should you find them relevant. Today, however, I want to get a bit more practical and suggest that one of the dangers of comparison is that it can convince you to unknowingly take action against your own self-interest.
One of the key components to this issue is that when you allow the actions of the herd to impact your decisions, you demonstrate a lack of confidence. We’ve talked recently about how one of the number one characteristics employers look for in candidates is a high level of confidence. If you are constantly looking around at the crowd to determine the best course of action, you aren’t demonstrating that you have confidence in your own abilities, skills and or intuition. And yet you have every reason to have confidence in yourself, so it’s a mistake to go down this road!
Another key way you might be self-sabotaging is that you might be the one who is right! Haven’t you ever had that experience when you and maybe one or two others are convinced the answer is X, and yet you hear chatter from others who seem to know what they are talking about that the answer is Y? But at the end of the day the Y people were misled, misunderstood or just didn’t get it, and you the X people were right all along! Be sure to fully consider this possibility before allowing comparison to sway you in a different direction.
Now before you start pushing back with seemingly contradictory advice you’ve received like surrounding yourself with quality mentors, or even Proverbs (15:22 for one) talking about gaining wise counsel from many advisers, let me make a distinction. I am not suggesting you insulate yourself from trusted advisers, counselors, family, friends or colleagues. In fact, you may notice in my example with the X v. Y, I suggested you were not alone with the correct answer, that it was you and maybe one or two others. These are the few people you trust, not the large crowd!
Of course, this doesn’t mean you will always be right and the masses will always be wrong. And it doesn’t mean you ignore inconsistencies you observe. What I am suggesting is that you guard against making snap judgments that if you are doing something different, that you are in the wrong. Take time instead to ask questions, get details, figure out why they are choosing a different route, talk to your trusted circle of people and then apply your own knowledge and values to the situation before making any of your own decisions.
In short, be the confident person you have every right to be. Trust in your instincts, training and preparation. Don’t panic when you see others doing something differently and assume they are right and you are wrong. You are probably wrong (or, right?)!