Tristan Gardner

Managing Psychological Pitfalls in Entrepreneurship: The Comparison Trap

June 4, 2024
The Trap of Comparison and Its Pitfalls

The comparison trap can significantly derail progress. We call it: "the grass is always greener" mentality. This psychological hurdle stems from an evolutionary predisposition to assess our situation relative to others for survival. For me, this has manifested as comparing the stressors of entrepreneurship with the seemingly more secure paths of traditional employment. There are so many aspects to traditional employment that I've never experienced, and therefore do not consider when making the comparison. Recognizing and overcoming this instinct is crucial for maintaining focus on your objectives and the unique rewards that come after working hard consistently and without distraction.

Comparison is, however, a part of measurement, and what gets measured gets done - but there are some key limits we've learned. In the past, we measured a co-founder's value year-to-year with metrics that were unproductive for the business' growth, like pre-producing creative, filming or editing. The value is different between basic assembly, green-screen keying, visual effects, color grading, and motion design and animation, yet we measured everything the same. Now that wasn't even the actual problem. The core problem was that we were measuring attributes that had nothing to do with business development in the first place. So in trying to avoid a miss-allocation of compensation across owners, we created a system that improperly valued a founder's role entirely and fostered a negative culture by adjusting equity in parallel. This was completely backwards, and most importantly, it contributed to driving top salespeople out.

Avoiding Negative Assumptions

Negative assumptions, often rooted in comparison, can distort reality and undermine self-confidence. Focusing on tangible metrics and outcomes, rather than subjective judgments, helps maintain a clear view of your business's health and progress. Remember, our brains have evolved to detect threats so much that we will perceive a threat when one isn't there. If you base your actions or conclusions on unbacked-assumptions, you're bound to be wrong more than you're right - those aren't good odds.

The Isolation and Temptation of Comparison: Entrepreneurship, by its nature, can be an isolating venture, where the lack of direct peers and mentors can amplify feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt. This isolation can lead to the temptation to compare oneself to others, particularly to those in more traditional roles. Recognizing that this comparison is a distraction rather than a constructive benchmark is the first step in maintaining focus on your unique entrepreneurial journey.

Understanding the Universality of Challenges

It's crucial to acknowledge that challenges and stressors are universal, not unique to the entrepreneurial experience. Friends and peers in traditional employment face their own sets of concerns and pressures, from navigating corporate politics to pursuing career advancement. This realization helps demystify the entrepreneurial path, underscoring that each journey has its own obstacles and rewards, making comparisons both unhelpful and misleading.

A clear, well-articulated vision is essential for staying focused and avoiding distractions. This vision should be supported by specific goals and metrics that align with your personal values and the impact you wish to make through your business. Engaging in exercises like the "newspaper headline" exercise can help solidify your future aspirations, providing a tangible reminder of what you're working towards and why it matters. Navigating partnerships and team dynamics requires clear communication and shared values. Avoid the trap of comparing your contributions to those of your partners by focusing on agreed-upon metrics and outcomes. Recognizing that each individual brings unique strengths to the team allows for a more synchronous and productive collaboration, where the focus remains on collective progress rather than individual comparison.

Embracing the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster

The entrepreneurial path is inherently filled with ups and downs. Accepting this volatility as part of the journey, and learning to enjoy the process, transforms challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation. This acceptance is crucial for sustaining self-confidence amidst uncertainty.

Ultimately, building and sustaining self-confidence in entrepreneurship demands a focused approach to goal setting, an appreciation for the journey's inherent challenges, and a steadfast refusal to fall into the comparison trap. By nurturing self-confidence and viewing the entrepreneurial path through a lens of growth and opportunity, entrepreneurs can navigate their journeys with resilience and purpose. Remember, the true measure of success lies in staying true to your vision, leveraging your unique strengths, and embracing the journey's unpredictability with confidence and determination.

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