When was the last time you compared yourself to others?
When you compare, do you compare yourself to people who are better or worse than you are?
What feelings come up after you’ve made the comparisons?
The last time I compared myself with other people was just last week when I saw an old colleague of mine switch roles and become a senior manager at a major company. That same day, I also compared myself to a business school classmate of mine who is four years younger than I am in age but who is a manager at his work. In both of these cases, I felt insignificant and little because I no longer have a “senior” in my title and I’m also not a manager. When I compare, I often compare myself to people I think are better than I am, and I use that as a way to put myself down. When I feel equal to or when I feel that I am in a better position than others, I approach it with a sense of privilege and gratitude. Before I make the comparison with someone I think is better than I am, I could have been in a great mood, feeling that I’m doing well in life. But once I start comparing, I turn all my accomplishments into naught. I deny that I’ve done anything well or right.
I shared these feelings of feeling less-than with a friend. The friend asked if I could also become a senior or a senior manager if I wanted to. Sure I can. But then I asked myself, is that what I want? At this point, no, and I also don’t feel ready yet to advance in my role. When it comes to job titles. I have had “senior” in my title before, but those titles were mere title changes that gave me a bump in my salary, not necessarily titles that gave me more responsibilities or extra experience. I have foregon the senior title a couple of times for more money. In my mind, I’d rather chase money than a title. However, guilt forms within me when I think this way. Why don’t I want more? Why am I not driven the way I should be?
Another example of feeling inadequate because of comparing relates to the long-term goal I set this year of wanting to increase my salary to 300K in three years. I still need to work out the steps on how to get there, but I thought the goal is achievable and not too lofty. But when I saw on social media that some people set goals to have a 6–7 figure monthly income, I wondered if my dreams are too small. When people in my life share their dreams that seem far fetched for myself, I also wonder if my dreams need to be bigger?
There are moments and in certain areas where I feel completely confident. I can work a crowd at large parties. I can have exciting one-on-one conversations. I am excellent at job interviews. I walk into the gym like I own the weight room. I grew an Asian American social group from 500 members to 3000 members within three years. When I was deep into the translation and interpreting business, I spoke with authority and clarity and also taught others how to support our community with people who have limited English abilities.
But I have long held insecurities about my capabilities at the workplace. I also have an inferiority complex of where I am in life compared to where I think I should be, and where I am going compared to where I think I should want to go. When it comes to my career, every single step feels like it has been challenging as I’m always trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of the role. Even though I’ve received accolades and promotions, I never feel that I am good enough. I always feel that I am not enough.
When it comes to business school as well, I often feel that my classmates are smarter than I am and have better experiences than I do even though I have no bases for my assumptions.
Last week, I had a team project for business school. I felt anxious about it because I have never worked with the classmate. He’s spoken up in class and made some good points. I felt that he is smart. I was nervous about the project and worried about how I would come across to him. I was also feeling stressed because it took me a while to grasp the assignment. Thankfully, I finally understood it and I was prepared––I read the case. I formulated my thoughts, and had a point of view to share. Once I did that, I felt much better. In our team meeting, I was actually more prepared than my teammate, and we had a good discussion. I did not feel less than, but like an equal. That was a win for me. It was a win because even though I had felt less than, I didn’t let it hinder my performance. I still did what I needed to do, and I proved myself wrong.
This is how I am in the workplace a well. I always make sure that I prepare ahead of meetings. This is a good thing, but what I need to alter is the reason why I’m prepared. I should be prepared because it is best for me and also my customer, not because I want to make sure I don’t feel less-than at the meeting.
Sometimes, when I feel little, it shows in my body language and others can see as well. Years ago when I was researching which business school in Chicago to apply to, I went to an info session held by the admissions office. My married ex came along with me. At the time, he was finishing up law school. Before the session, there was an hour of meet and greet, with h’ourderves and cocktail tables for people to mingle. The admissions director was making his rounds. When he came to our table, he looked at my ex and me, and asked him, “why are you deciding now to get your MBA?” My ex immediately redirected the admissions director’s attention to let him know that his wife, who was standing next to him, was actually who is interested in applying.
Something about how the director of admissions assumed that my tall, white, male, blonde-haired, blue-eyed partner was looking at business schools, made me feel little. I felt insignificant because I’m am short and I didn’t feel that I have the stature of someone impressive, especially when I was standing next to someone else who is 6’4. I also have the complex of not being where I should be in life and so I was already feeling insignificant. Once I feel little, I feel like I also shrink in the space I’m taking up. That interaction and event was a bust for me. I didn’t reframe my mindset and felt inadequate the rest of the time. I stayed little and did not have a great interaction with the admissions director.
The truth is, I did that to myself. I made the assumption that he didn’t see me as business school material. I made the assumption that I didn’t stand out. For all I know, he could have thought we both were looking at business school, or that he was just asking everybody there the same question. That I let that person’s possible opinion deflate my confidence is something that I need to work on. My ex and I talked about this after the event. He was surprised by how quickly I deflated and also pointed out that I have a tendency to defer to people who I think are better than I am. This was 3 years ago, and I’m still working on the moments when I want to defer to people because I think they are better and therefore always right.
After that experience, I attended all pre-business school events by myself. I made sure to go by myself so I had no one to lean on when I felt uncertainty. I made sure to remind myself to stand tall and not defer to anyone. I was nervous for every single event, but I took deep breaths before walking into the room, and made my rounds. I did so well it took my own breath away. I took control of the room and situation, not the admissions directors. The interview and networking event I went to before I got accepted to Kellogg at Northwestern University was amazing. I was on it. I was in control. I was confident. All of that showed through my interactions and personality that day, and I think all of that helped with the admissions’ decision to accept me into the school.
The little moments when I feel big are moments that I am proud of. I am big! I can take up space. I belong and I am just as competent as anyone who got hired into my company and got accepted into my business school.
Going back to feeling little. I feel little when I compare. I feel little when I let society determine who I should be, how I should act, where I should work, what position I should hold, and how much money I should make. I feel little when I don’t fit into the box. I feel little also because I don’t take credit for what I have achieved and what I am capable of. I know in my mind that I am not what I believe myself to be, that I am more than what I tell myself I am. But I think so little of myself in certain cases that it is crazy to anyone who know me that I think that way.
What do I need to do to feel confidence in these areas? What I need to do to counter these self-doubts and insecurities?
I know that a mindset shift is needed for me to truly feel confidence in work and school, to keep in mind that I am competent and not let my confidence escape me. Here are some actions I can take whenever I start to feel less-than.
Question the Limiting Beliefs. When I feel inferior, or as if an imposter, I need to sit down and evaluate my thoughts and feelings. Are they accurate? If there are areas I can work on, write those down and take steps to improve myself so I can build confidence in those areas. If I am belittling myself again, I should jott down what I am good at, what I have done well, and challenge my inferiority complex. I need to own what I know. Own my achievements. Own that I am good enough.
Accept that I can also Be Better Than Others. I can be the alpha, too! I don’t need to always be the beta in work and school. I don’t ever need to make myself little just to make other people feel better. Sometimes I do that. I make myself seem less knowledgeable because I am afraid to be the one who knows the most. Why do I do that? Who does it even serve? I need to learn to accept that I do know things, that I am capable, and that when I own it, I can share my knowledge and truly become a leader.
Accept the Compliments I Receive. I don’t take compliments well. I say thank you but I don’t agree with the compliments most times. I see what other see, and I see why they say what they say about me, but deep down inside, I don’t believe it. I say thank you because I know it’s what is expected of me, and there’s no need to show my insecurity in front of people who don’t matter to me. I need to work on believing in myself and my worth so I can truly accept what others see in me and believe me to be.
Keep Moving Forward. I haven’t been one to stop taking action just because of my fear of not being good enough. I need to continue not to let my fears and feelings of unworthiness hold me back. This is one way I can prove to myself that I am so much more than I believe.
Document It. We are forgetful beings. When things go well, I celebrate them for a few seconds, and then I go back to the grind. When things go unwell, I can focus on it longer, feeling down. But the truth is, there are more good moments than bad, but I fixate on the few occasions that make me feel little. Documenting my wins will help remind me that I am so much more than what I am feeling in the current moment.
Love Myself. At the end of the day, I need to accept myself. Accept where I am in life while knowing that I’m taking steps every day to grow and become more and more myself. Accept and love myself for how I am now, and tell myself every day that I am enough. This is a way to affirm to myself that I’m moving in the right direction.
Do some of these feelings happen to you?
If you also feel insecure, feel little, or inferior, I hope that you also know that you are so much more than what you believe yourself to be. Observe yourself more. Listen to what others are saying to you, and embody those compliments. You are enough right now. Don’t let even yourself tell you otherwise.