Apples to Oranges

I drive a 4 cylinder Honda Accord. Great car by many measures. It’s about 6 years old, in good condition and best of all…it is paid in full. Lately I have been throwing around the idea of getting a new car. A faster car. One with a fancier name on the hood. One that would…feed my ego. Now look, I am not judging anyone that drives a nice car or that has nice things. I have nice things and my wife drives her dream car. I am judging myself. I am judging myself because when I really explore why I have been considering buying a new car it is because I have been comparing myself to other people. Whether it be people I know or the good looking guy in a BMW that pulled up next to me at the stop light. I call this a “shake my head moment”. I have to stop and shake some sense back into my brain and reconnect with myself.

I actually don’t really want a new car. I like my honda, the gas mileage it gets and that it is paid off. But when I compared myself to others, I started to convince myself that I did. I am NOT getting a new car.

What drives us to compare ourselves to other people? Constantly. What drives us to compare our businesses to other ‘more successful’ businesses? Constantly.

Is it simply that we are wired to want what we don’t have? I have always been aware of this in myself and others.  I have heard that you can’t “compare apples to oranges”, but recently it seems I am having this conversation in my head and with my clients pretty dang frequently. I am coming to realize that it is in the way of many people.  In the way of people fully realizing what makes them happy, from uncovering their true value in their place of work, or from being satisfied and fulfilled with their home life.  Unfortunately, when we do this we lose the capacity to be truly grateful for what we do have.  And, we no longer are striving to create the life that would makes US happy…we chase someone else’s definitions of success, happy marriage, family, fun, etc..  Interesting enough, in my work I find that often times the one being chased is in the same boat…no real definition of success and in some instances wants more fulfillment…they actually don’t have it all or have it all together as we assumed.

I have spent the better part of the last 13/14 years trying to define who I am, what drives me, satisfies me, and what jazzes me.  I have tried to define what success looks like for me.  I have given real thought to what my relationship with money is.  I have not only given thought to but taken action towards creating the marriage and family life I want.  Yet, I still was thinking about buying a new car when doing so would not have contributed in a positive way to any of my definitions. 

I often am having conversations with business leaders that talk about “growing their business”.  They throw out big numbers and talk about how they will rank among their competitors.  But when asked why they want to make “x” amount of money they can’t provide any real explanation.  And when asked why they started the business in the first place, they have lost sight of that as well.  Further probing and  what usually gets uncovered is they have gotten caught up in wanting to be bigger, better, faster and have never slowed down to define success, happiness or what their purpose is.  If you did these things first, constantly revisited them along the way and then grew your business, the view from the top would look much different.  Far too many people have grown a business only to find that it did not create happiness or satisfaction…the view from the top was far from breathtaking.  My coaching sessions with such people are eye opening…not only for them but for me too.  Unfortunately, in may instances these business leaders based their plan on wanting to be like someone else.

Then, when I am coaching someone or having a deep conversation with a friend or loved one,  I find again that when probed, so much of their unhappiness or feeling of insignificance stems from them comparing themselves to other people or what they think the “norm” is.  They compare their skill set to someone else’s and create a story in their head that there skill set is inferior.  They talk about their brother who has the perfect home life. Follow me?

I want to point out again that I am not simply talking about having nice things.  In most cases all of us want nice things.  Furthermore, I want to help people grow their businesses….I just want them to be rooted to a reason and deeper purpose if they are going to do so.  I suppose what I am saying is I will buy a new car when it feels right to me.  Not when it is driven by some comparison I have made.

Interesting.  The above type of comparisons not only push us to buy or do things not in line with our core being but they prohibit us from doing many things as well.  I could use starting this blog as an example.  I spent many months comparing myself to other people.  I concluded that I couldn’t contribute anything worthy to my readers compared to what was out there.  I looked at many blogs and was blown away at how attractive and comprehensive they were.  How the hell could I compare?

The gym is another perfect example of what I am referring to here.  Many people commit to losing weight to be more healthy, have more energy to play with their kids, or raise their self esteem.  Great reasons!  Then they get to the gym, start comparing themselves to other people there…and quit.

These comparisons are damaging.

As I write this I am feeling as if I could write chapters about this and share many stories. Stories about my own evolution and stories of people I have sat with.  Over the years the above has wreaked havoc in my head and in my actions. I am thinking about things like what is true power, authenticity, picturing myself at my own funeral and who would be there and what would they be saying? What would I be saying and doing if I were dying?  Would I be happy with how I spent my time, money, and what I represented? How, in certain instances, we compare ourselves to others to make ourselves feel better.  This thing is clearly unwinding for me and far too much for one blog post.

My main takeaway…


When I slow down enough and settle in to my mantra of STAY TRUE I quickly realize I am a pretty simple guy. Well, complex in thought and emotion but simple in terms of what drives me and makes me tic.  When I start to feel off balance, unsuccessful, unsatisfied, or insecure it usually is because I am comparing myself to someone else or drifting out of my lane. When I can root myself in the fact that I am simple, love quiet time(or not so quiet) at home with my family, want to feel good and integral about the work that I do, understand that I am driven to make money to provide security and life experience for my family, and am committed to helping change the lives of the people and companies I spend time with, I can make better decisions and act accordingly.

It is important to note that I am not saying we should not look to other people or businesses for inspiration, as role models or the like.  Nor am I saying to not “enjoy the ride”.  I am simply saying connect to the right and deeper reasons for doing or not doing something.  I apologize if my thoughts are somewhat scattered for this post.  As it unraveled for me I realized that there is actually a lot more to this than I originally had in my head.  I can only hope what I have put forth resonates for you and encourages you to slow down and look at your motivations in life and in leadership.

To think all this started because I was thinking about buying about a new car 🙂

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.  My apologies for what I think is a scattered (and long) post but my hope is people’s thoughts could add clarity to what became a more complex thought for me.

Stay True,


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  1. Hi Ted, Thank you for a very insightful post. This is a conflict that many of us go through and the key as you said is to stay true. Just do what you do and don’t worry so much about everybody else and what they have. Truth is, for every person who wants a BMW there is another who respects the person who is driving something economical. A key for me to staying grounding is reminding myself where I came from how blessed we really are..

    Kelly Douglas’s post about comparing to peoples highlight reel such a great way to articulate it. I constantly remind people and myself that reality is not always as it seems. For instance, the family with the huge house and expensive cars could be in tons of debt living paycheck to paycheck due to their spending habits. I am not judging but just saying that you never know.

    My 9 year old yesterday asked me “if all you do is always want more things you will never be happy”.

    The best things in life are free… family, friends, health….

    As it says in Psalms – Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot, as it is said: ‘When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2)

  2. When I worked for nonprofit organizations and new opportunities for service came along, we always went back to our mission statement and in the light of that statement examined whether or not the new opportunity was consonant with our mission. Linnea is describing a mission statement for hers and Dan’s marriage. How wonderful that they did that. We each can also have a personal mission statement to help guide us through all the “opportunities” life presents. Wonderful blog Ted!

  3. You should always keep it real, do what’s within your own means and not worry about what the “Jones’s” have or do, having said that I also feel if you’ve earned it you should enjoy it. As you said, we all like nice things and I say if you want it get it so long as it’s within you means.
    I learned over time that my heart feels best when I “give”, I LOVE to give. I volunteer at soup kitchens, BARCS and my family and I volunteer by raising potential Service Dogs that are given to people in need free of charge. I also love giving to my kids, I still get enormous happiness seeing the thrill on their face when I get them something that they otherwise couldn’t have had. But I also reward myself. When I buy a new car I don’t want a base model I enjoy the bells and whistle’s and it doesn’t have to be a BMW but the car I chose will fit what I want and as I said, I’ve earned it.
    I didn’t always live by this way of life but at 51 I’ve learned lessons along the way and have tried to live by them.

  4. Ted, I really LOVED this one. I think we all could benefit from stopping to think “why am I doing this?” or “will this truly make me finally happy?”. From the time we are small children, we are basically sold a singular definition of happiness or success. If we are lucky, we find the place to recognize that this is someone else’s dream and that we need to find our own bliss. Thank you for reminding us of that. Keep up the good work, Man!

  5. Thanks Ted! Great wisdom again! I so agree that freedom comes to us when we can make our decisions based on our purpose and values in life, not on what others and society tells us to do. Did I ever tell you that early in our marriage, Dan and I developed our PVVM (pronounced it P-VOOM)? I had been helping physicians in their practices identify their purpose, values, vision and mission (now I think some of that can be combined); and thought why not do it for our marriage. So, in a bar one night we started brainstorming…and from that developed short and long term goals for our lives. We still review it periodically, used to do so yearly, to guide how we spend our time and our resources. Pretty fun!
    During the last two years my spiritual director had me clarify my own Values again, and literally reflect on them with whatever decision I was making, big or small, for a time so I could regularly use them consciously to make decisions. It has given me greater freedom for my life in a deeper way as I look at all the time I spend, whether for paid work or not, and whether I can live out my values in that place. If so, it matters so much less what I actually “do”; because it’s about how I am “being” in the world. When I am living out my “true” being each moment, as you say, the freedom I feel is unbelievable. Thanks a million for sharing your wisdom and empowering us to reflect on our lives, Ted!

  6. Such a good topic! I find myself doing the same thing and luckily I am with someone that always keeps me very humble. I always want more than I have; want to do more than I financially or physically can do; and constantly compare my behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reels. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to what we don’t have instead of appreciating all that we do. I love that you always remind us to remain genuine, humble, and true to ourselves. Another amazing post! Always look forward to reading these when I see them come through my inbox! Keep inspiring us Ted!

    1. I love the “compare my behind the scenes to other people’s highlight reels”. I feel like you just described facebook in so many ways.

  7. Another awesome blog Ted. I love how you describe your inner conversations with yourself. I think it is incredibly relatable.

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